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Publication numberUS8197334 B2
Publication typeGrant
Application numberUS 11/927,420
Publication dateJun 12, 2012
Filing dateOct 29, 2007
Priority dateOct 29, 2007
Also published asUS20090111562, WO2009058659A1
Publication number11927420, 927420, US 8197334 B2, US 8197334B2, US-B2-8197334, US8197334 B2, US8197334B2
InventorsRussell Chudd, Joseph Randy Hedrick
Original AssigneeIgt
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Circulating data card apparatus and management system
US 8197334 B2
Abstract
A gaming device having a card management system which is operable to manage a plurality of circulating data cards is described.
Images(34)
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Claims(26)
1. A gaming device comprising:
a first processor;
a display device controlled by the first processor;
a game controlled by the first processor and operable upon a wager;
at least one card processing assembly in communication with the first processor, the at least one card processing assembly comprising:
(a) a data read device configured to read machine-readable data on a first data card, the first data card configured to store information that enables an amount of credit to be accessed;
(b) a data storing device configured to store machine-readable data on the first data card; and
(c) a graphics printer configured to print a first authorized graphical component on the first data card;
a card transporter configured to transport the first data card; and
an imaging system in addition to the data read device and the data storing device, the imaging system being configured to:
(a) acquire image data of a front side and a back side of the first data card, wherein the first data card includes one of: (i) authorized graphical components, (ii) unauthorized graphical components, and (iii) authorized graphical components and unauthorized graphical components, wherein the first authorized graphical component is one of the authorized graphical components;
(b) analyze and process the image data of the front side and the back side of the first data card to detect any authorized graphical components and any unauthorized graphical components on the front side or the back side of the first data card, and
(c) approve or reject the first data card for reuse based on the analysis and the processing of the image data.
2. The gaming device of claim 1, wherein the imaging system includes a scan head configured to acquire at least a portion of the image data.
3. The gaming device of claim 2, wherein the card transporter is configured to transport the first data card past the scan head while the scan head remains in a fixed position.
4. The gaming device claim 1, wherein the scan head is configured to move over the first data card while the first data card remains in a fixed position.
5. The gaming device of claim 1, wherein the imaging system includes a first scan head configured to acquire the image data of the front side of the first data card and a second scan head configured to acquire the image data of the back side of the first data card.
6. The gaming device of claim 1, wherein the imaging system includes a digital camera configured to acquire at least a portion of the image data.
7. The gaming device of claim 1, which includes a memory configured to store the image data.
8. The gaming device of claim 1, wherein the imaging system is configured to utilize a second processor, the second processor being separate from the first processor, to analyze and process the image data.
9. The gaming device of claim 1, wherein the imaging system is configured to utilize the first processor to analyze and process the image data.
10. The gaming device of claim 1, wherein the imaging system is configured to send the image data to a remote device.
11. The gaming device of claim 10 wherein the remote device is configured to store the image data or to analyze and process the image data to detect any authorized graphical components and any unauthorized graphical components on the front side and the back side of the first data card.
12. The gaming device of claim 1 wherein the unauthorized graphical components comprise one or more marks.
13. The gaming device of claim 12, wherein the one or more marks are generated by use of a substance that adheres to the first data card or by the first data card being scratched.
14. The gaming device of claim 1, wherein the authorized graphical components are visible on the front side, the back side or both the front side and the back side of the first data card.
15. The gaming device of claim 1, wherein one or more of the authorized graphical components are based on a theme.
16. The gaming device of claim 15 wherein the theme is based upon a time of year, an event or a feature associated with a gaming entity.
17. The gaming device of claim 15 wherein the authorized graphical components include one or more erasable elements.
18. The gaming device of claim 15 wherein the authorized graphical components include one or more elements selected by a user.
19. The gaming device of claim 1, wherein the card processing assembly includes a magnetized device configured to read and write machine-readable data.
20. The gaming device of claim 1, wherein the card processing assembly includes a graphics eraser.
21. The gaming device of claim 1, wherein the imaging system is configured to analyze and process the image data of the front side and the back side of the first data card to detect any authorized graphical components and any unauthorized graphical components on the front side or the back side of the first data card by comparing the image data to graphical identifier information associated with the first data card, the graphical identifier information identifying a location on the first data card for all of the authorized graphical components.
22. A method of using a graphically rewriteable data card, the method comprising:
providing a data card, wherein the data card is configured to store information that enables an amount of credit to be accessed for a wager on a game, and wherein the data card includes authorized graphical components that are visible on a front side of the data card, a back side of the data card, or the front side and the back side of the data card;
acquiring image data of the front side and the back side of the data card using an imaging system, the imaging system being in addition to: (a) a data read device configured to read machine-readable data on the data card, and (b) a data storing device configured to store machine-readable data on the data card;
processing and analyzing the image data of the front side and the back side of the data card to detect graphical components including the authorized graphical components, any unauthorized graphical components, or the authorized graphical components and any unauthorized graphical components on the front side or the back side of the data card; and
determining whether to approve or to reject the data card for reuse based on the analysis and the processing of the image data.
23. The method of claim 22, which includes:
erasing a portion of the authorized graphical components and printing new authorized graphical components.
24. The method of claim 22, wherein the unauthorized graphical components comprise one or more marks.
25. The method of claim 22, wherein the one or more marks are generated by use of a substance that adheres to the first data card or by the first data card being scratched.
26. The method of claim 22, wherein processing and analyzing the image data of the front side and the back side of the data card to detect graphical components includes comparing the image data to graphical identifier information associated with the data card, the graphical identifier information identifying a location on the data card for the authorized graphical components.
Description
CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application is related to the following commonly-owned U.S. patent applications: A) “Electronic Fund Transfer Kiosk For Use With Wagering Gaming Machine,” application Ser. No. 10/662,495; B) “Gaming Device Having A Card Management System for the Management of Circulating Data Cards,” application Ser. No. 10/661,229; C) “Gaming Device having an Electronic Funds Transfer System,” application Ser. No. 10/229,772; D) “Gaming Device Having an Electronic Funds Transfer System,” application Ser. No. 10/662,618; E) “Thermal Printer With Dual Head-Audit,” application Ser. No. 09/795,337; “Gaming System with Rewritable Display Card and LCD Input Display for Reading Same,” application Ser. No. 10/923,568; F) “Rewritable Card Printer,” application Ser. No. 11/678,837, each of which is incorporated by reference and for all purposes; and G) “Gaming Device Including a Card Processing Assembly Having Vertically-Stacked Card Holders Operable With Thermally-Printable Data Cards and Portable Card Changeover Machines,” application Ser. No. 11/158,478; H) “Machine Having a Card Processing Assembly,” application Ser. No. 12/358,882; I) “Bezel Interface for a Card Loading System,” application Ser. No. 11/983,771; J) “Card Loading System for Data Card Unit,” application Ser. No. 11/983,772; K) “Rewritable Card Printer,” application Ser. No. 10/654,521; L) “Machine Having a Card Processing Assembly,” Application No. 13/156,875; and M) “Machine Having a Card Processing Assembly,” Application No. 13/156,892.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE

A portion of the disclosure of this patent document contains or may contain material which is subject to copyright protection. The copyright owner has no objection to the photocopy reproduction by anyone of the patent document or the patent disclosure in exactly the form it appears in the Patent and Trademark Office patent file or records, but otherwise reserves all copyright rights whatsoever.

DESCRIPTION

The present invention relates in general to a gaming device, and more particularly to a gaming device having a card management system for managing circulating data cards.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Contemporary gaming machines, such as slot machines, poker machines, blackjack machines and keno machines, generally are adapted to accept paper currency (such as dollar bills) and tokens or coins (such as quarters and half dollars) from a player. For instance, a player may purchase dollar tokens from a cashier and insert the tokens into the gaming device to play a game. If a player earns a payout, the gaming device provides additional credits for the player or dispenses the appropriate number of tokens to the player. The player may cash in the tokens at the cashier for currency.

The use of coins and tokens has several disadvantages. Because each token represents a relatively small amount of currency, a player typically handles a plurality of tokens. It is typical for a gaming device to dispense a handful of tokens to a player for a typical win. The supply and handling of tokens in a gaming facility requires substantial labor, storage space and security procedures. Also, containers are typically provided to players for carrying tokens from place to place. Dirt and germs tend to accumulate on the containers and the tokens as they circulate from player to player. The high number of tokens and containers thus contribute to colds and other health conditions. With the advance of electronics, several techniques have been developed as an alternative for tokens, coins and paper currency in gaming machines. Several U.S. patents disclose cashless or tokenless systems.

For instance, U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,265,874 and 6,089,982 disclose data cards which are player-specific, meaning they can only be used by a single, specified player. For example, player ID cards store player-specific data such as a player's name and account number. U.S. Pat. No. 5,265,874 discloses a cashless gaming apparatus and method suitable for casinos wherein a player gives money and an ID card to a clerk at a validation terminal. The clerk stores the ID number and the amount of money in the memory of the validation terminal. The clerk returns the ID card to the player for operating any one of a number of game terminals. When the player inserts the ID card into a game terminal which reads the player's ID card, the cash amount from the validation terminal is downloaded to the game terminal and the game terminal can be played. If the player wishes to play a second game terminal, the player actuates a cash-out switch on the first game terminal and receives the ID card. The player moves to the second game terminal and inserts the ID card into the second game terminal. The money remaining as a cash amount on the ID card is downloaded to the second game terminal. The player can then play the second game terminal. When the player wishes to stop playing the game terminals completely, the player actuates the cash-out switch of the last game terminal played and receives the ID card. The player presents his ID card to the clerk at the validation terminal and the validation terminal reads the ID card. A ticket showing the card number and the cash amount is printed and the player is paid the cash amount on the spot. The printed ticket is used for reconciliation.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,089,982 discloses a cordless video game system which includes a plurality of electronic video game terminals, a game server corresponding to each player terminal and a central control network for administering and controlling games and playing accounts. A player initially establishes a player account in the central control network and receives a player ID card bearing the player's account number and other relevant information. Players use these ID cards to establish sessions at a player terminal. The server provides a random number to each player terminal at predefined intervals to determine wins and losses for each game selected by a player. Wagered amounts are then debited or credited to a player's account in the central control network. Players may redeem any account balance from a cashier associated with the central control network.

U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,038,022; 5,902,983; 5,952,640; 5,959,277 and 6,019,283 disclose the use of financial cards (such as bank debit cards and credit cards). U.S. Pat. No. 5,038,022 discloses an apparatus for enabling a gaming machine to provide credit to a player operating the machine without the player leaving the machine. The gaming machine has a card reader associated with it for reading a debit card or credit card and transmitting player related financial data to a remote location for approval. A first code identifies the particular gaming machine and a second code identifies the establishment in which the gaming machine is located. A visual display on the gaming machine indicates the amount of credit approved and usable by the player and enables the player to operate the gaming machine to use the credit.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,902,983 discloses a gaming machine which includes the apparatus necessary to send requests to and receive authorizations from an electronic funds transfer (EFT) system. All such requests for credit are limited to a preset amount, so that when a player uses an EFT transfer to obtain playing credit, the credit will be limited to a specified amount. In practice, the player inserts his or her ATM card (debit card), keys in a personal identification number (PIN), requests playing credits and receives the preset amount of credit which can be converted to play on the gaming machine.

U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,952,640; 5,959,277 and 6,019,283, which are related patents, disclose a gaming machine system wherein a player feeds a general purpose charge card such as a VISA, MasterCard or American Express card to a reader at a gaming machine or enters on a keyboard or other input device information relating to the general purpose charge card, keys in a desired amount of playing credit and optionally a personal identification number (PIN) for automatic transmission to a remote financial institution (VISA or other charge card facility) either directly or through an intermediate transaction processing facility. Also transmitted are an identification of the gaming machine and the gaming operator. Upon approval of the requested playing credit, the gaming machine is enabled and thereafter a running net (balance) is kept for the player and/or each machine and/or the gaming operator by accounting for win-lose-draws. After the playing session is over, net playing credit information is automatically transmitted to the financial institution either directly or through an intermediate transaction processing facility so that the entire playing session can be a single line item on the player's regular statement from that financial institution.

U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,880,237; 5,371,345; 6,012,832; 6,048,269 and 6,113,098 disclose systems and devices other than a gaming device data card, such as a player keypad used to initiate a game, change-making cards for gaming facilities and tickets and slips used in gaming devices.

U.S. Pat. No. 4,880,237 discloses a slot machine requiring no game media at all and comprising a game data processing unit which is provided with an input unit for specific data, a storage unit, an arithmetic processing unit, a printer, a display and a slot machine body which is provided with a pattern display mechanism, a starting lever, stopping buttons, a win decision unit and a display for the input data and the results of arithmetic processing.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,371,345 discloses a gaming machine change system wherein providing change to gaming machine players is facilitated by the use of a change card having a memory storing a cash value which a change person can use to input a credit into a gaming machine in exchange for cash from a player. A game monitor unit having a card reader, a keypad and a display is attached to the gaming machine and can be used to authorize and transfer a selected cash value to the credit meter of the gaming machine from the change card. Cash values along with authorizations and security codes are input to the change card at a change station utilizing a similar monitor unit.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,012,832 discloses a cashless peripheral device connecting to a gaming system. The gaming system issues a “cash-out” signal when a player quits playing and receives a “cash-in” when a player desires to play a game. A stack of continuous unprinted tickets is stored in the interior of the device. A ticket printer prints a coded value, such as a bar code, on a ticket in response to a cash-out signal from the gaming system. A ticket reader reads the amount printed on the ticket. If the printed value corresponds to the value which should have been printed, a ticket-out transport delivers the printed ticket to the player cashing out from the gaming system. When a player inserts the ticket into the device, a ticket-in transport senses the insertion and the ticket reader reads the coded value from the inserted printed ticket. The ticket reader issues a cash-in signal to the gaming system corresponding to the value read from the coded value on the inserted printed ticket. After reading, the ticket is delivered into a ticket bin, which is secured by means of a lock internally in the housing. The tickets are not reused and the ticket bins are opened periodically for emptying and ticket verification.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,048,269 discloses a gaming apparatus such as a slot machine capable of accepting either paper currency, preprinted coupons or cash-out slips. The slot machine also includes a printer that prints and dispenses cash-out slips which include a bar code representing a unique identification that provides the amount of “winnings.” The cash-out slips can be scanned into a separate currency dispenser at a cashier's station for receiving currency, either from the dispenser or from an attendant. A central processing unit generates the unique codes for regulating the game to be played, the wager limits of the game and the validity of the free play coupons on the cash-out tickets.

U.S. Pat. No. 6,113,098 discloses gaming devices which dispense tickets which are supplemental to the gaming award. The gaming devices provide gaming awards, typically in a form selected from the group consisting of coins, currency, credits or redeemable tickets in response to a randomly determined event, and also provide supplemental tickets.

U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,764,666; 4,882,473 and 5,276,312 disclose the use of data cards with remote terminals in an on-line wagering system. U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,764,666 and 4,882,473, which are related patents, disclose an on-line wagering system with programmable game entry cards including cards having on-card data storage or value tokens and data uniquely related to the player. The player cards are operable as payment means in which the tokens are spent and as play validation and play entry means in lieu of mark sense slips and printed validation receipts. Demographic player data uniquely related to the owner of the card is stored on the card and possibly in the central wagering system memory.

U.S. Pat. No. 5,276,312 discloses a wagering system for random drawing lotteries which includes a central data processor managing acceptance of player entries and payout authorization. Remote agent terminals receive player entry data from players and process authorized payouts. Portable agent data modules having an on-board memory and security provisions are issued to the agents and carry data in both directions between the central data processor and the terminals. The agent modules included in the wagering system may be integrated circuit cards or “smart cards.”

U.S. Pat. No. 5,575,374 discloses gaming machines having electronic payment mechanisms. The conventional payment mechanism is replaced by a payment mechanism operated by tokens that are secured by contact-free detection. The machine is furthermore provided with a second payment mechanism operated by a chip card. Switching makes it possible to change over from the token operated payment mechanism to the chip card operated payment mechanism when a card is inserted into the corresponding payment mechanism.

This patent does not disclose a gaming device adapted to store or hold a plurality of data cards for future use, nor does this patent disclose data cards adapted for circulation throughout gaming devices and gaming device players.

Though the aforementioned systems and devices may provide an electronic alternative to tokens, they fail to disclose a gaming device which receive, store and dispense data cards to facilitate the recirculation of such cards similar to the circulation of tokens or coins. The player-specific cards require a player to open an account and permanently keep a card. The replacement costs for these types of cards can be relatively high because players tend to lose or dispose cards after the balance becomes zero, and also players do not always carry the cards with them. If they want to spontaneously play a gaming device, they must obtain a replacement card. In addition, many players do not wish to open an account and disclose their personal information. The other systems discussed above, such as the ticket systems, require a continuous replenishing of the materials needed to produce the tickets and also require substantial maintenance of such systems. The player-specific cards described above also do not allow all players to play anonymously.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention overcomes the above shortcomings by providing a gaming device having a card management system which enables the gaming device to receive, read, update, reset, store and dispense a plurality of circulating data cards.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a schematic diagram of an embodiment of a gaming device having a card management assembly for managing data cards.

FIG. 2A is a schematic diagram illustrating an embodiment of a gaming device receiving, reading, resetting and storing a data card.

FIG. 2B is a schematic diagram illustrating an embodiment of a gaming device retrieving a data card from its card holder and writing upon and dispensing the data card.

FIG. 3 is a schematic diagram illustrating an embodiment of a gaming device having the capacity to receive, read, update and dispense a data card and to receive, read, reset and store a data card.

FIG. 4 is a schematic diagram illustrating an embodiment of the circulation of a single data card through a plurality of gaming devices.

FIG. 5 is a graph of an example of multiple players using a single data card which changes between a blank state and a charged state on multiple occasions.

FIG. 6 is a graph of an example of multiple players using a single data card which changes between a face value charged state and a different charged state on multiple occasions.

FIG. 7 is a schematic diagram of an embodiment of a gaming device having a card management assembly for managing cards.

FIG. 8 is a top perspective view of an embodiment of a card management assembly.

FIG. 9 is an exploded top perspective view of the card management assembly of FIG. 8.

FIG. 10 is a schematic side elevation view of the card management assembly of FIG. 8.

FIG. 11 is a top or plan view of an embodiment of the front side or face of a data card.

FIG. 12 is a top or plan view of a backside of the data card of FIG. 11.

FIG. 13 is a schematic block diagram of an embodiment of the electronic configuration of a data card.

FIG. 14A is a perspective view of an embodiment of a gaming device.

FIG. 14B is a perspective view of another embodiment of a gaming device.

FIG. 15A is a schematic block diagram of an embodiment of the electronic configuration of a gaming device.

FIG. 15B is a schematic block diagram illustrating an embodiment of a plurality of gaming terminals in communication with a central controller.

FIG. 15C is a schematic block diagram illustrating an embodiment of a plurality of gaming devices in communication with a pay validation system and a plurality of gaming devices in communication with a clerk validation termination which, in turn, is in communication with a pay validation system.

FIG. 16 is a perspective view of an embodiment of the gaming device having vertically-stacked card holders and a camera.

FIG. 17A is break-away expanded view of an embodiment of the card mouth and card mouth display device of the card processing assembly illustrating card usage graphics.

FIG. 17B is break-away expanded view of an embodiment of the card mouth and card mouth display device of the card processing assembly illustrating player-selectable printable graphics.

FIG. 17C is break-away expanded view of an embodiment of the card mouth and card mouth display device of the card processing assembly illustrating a printable photograph of the player.

FIG. 18 is a schematic side elevation view of an embodiment of the card processing assembly.

FIG. 19 is a schematic rear elevation view of an embodiment of the card processing assembly.

FIG. 20 is a schematic front elevation view of an embodiment of the pin connector of the card processing assembly.

FIG. 21 is a schematic bottom view of an embodiment of the card processing assembly.

FIG. 22 is a top plan view of an embodiment of the thermally-printable data card.

FIG. 23 is a bottom view of the thermally-printable data card illustrated in FIG. 22.

FIG. 24 is a top plan view of an embodiment of the thermally-printable data card illustrating multiple thermally-printable areas.

FIG. 25 is a bottom view of the thermally-printable data card illustrated in FIG. 24.

FIG. 26 is a perspective view of an embodiment of the thermally-printable data card.

FIG. 27 is a break-away expanded view of the body of the thermally-printable data card of FIG. 26.

FIG. 28 is a perspective view of an embodiment of the gaming device illustrating the card changeover device at the rear of the gaming device.

FIG. 29 is a perspective view of an embodiment of the gaming device illustrating the card changeover device at the side of the gaming device.

FIG. 30 is a side elevation perspective view of an embodiment of the portable card changeover machine.

FIG. 31 is a perspective view of an embodiment of the gaming device illustrating the portable card changeover machine removably attached to the gaming device.

FIGS. 32A and B are a top side and bottom side of an embodiment of a reusable data card that has been altered in an unauthorized manner.

FIGS. 33A and 33B are digital images of a top side and bottom side of an embodiment of a reusable data card after image processing.

FIG. 34A is flow chart of a method of processing reusable data cards for one embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 34 b is flow chart of a method of processing reusable data card for another embodiment of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION I. General Card Management System A. Card Management Assembly

Referring now to FIG. 1, a gaming device 10 a includes a card management system having a card management assembly 11 a; one or more data exchange card read-write devices 12 for receiving, updating, reading and dispensing data cards 14; a card transporter 16 for moving or conveying data cards 14 within the gaming device; one or more card holders 18 for holding or storing data cards 14; and a processor 20 which controls the operation of the card read-write device 12, the card transporter 16 and the card holder 18.

There are a plurality of different embodiments of the data cards described herein. In one embodiment, the data cards have a substantially rectangular shape of a personal identification card, are relatively rigid and are constructed of a suitable plastic material. In another embodiment, the data cards are tickets. These data cards or tickets, in one example, have a rectangular shape, are relatively flexible and are constructed of paper or plastic. Furthermore, these data cards or tickets can be assembled in a roll where each data card or ticket is cut or torn from the roll. In other embodiments, the data cards can include, consist of or have the configuration of slips, paper currency, tokens, coins or any suitable combination of such embodiments of the data cards.

The card read-write device 12, in this embodiment, includes a gaming device interface (not shown) which enables the gaming device processor 20 to electronically communicate with the data card 14. Using the gaming device interface, the processor 20 reads, updates or resets credit or cash identification data on a data card 14, depending upon which events occur during a game. The gaming device interface may directly contacts the data card 14, and through conduction or magnetism, enables communication. However, the gaming device interface can also include a device which enables the processor 20 and the data card 14 to communicate without such direct contact such as through the use of magnetic field technology. In one embodiment, instead of including a card read-write device, the gaming device includes a card read device and a card write device

The card transporter 16, in one embodiment, includes a plurality of rollers 22 which, under the control of the processor 20, move data card 14 to and from the card read-write device 12 and to and from the card holder 18. The rollers 22 rotate at a predetermined rate and in a predetermined direction so as to move data cards 14 to their destinations. The card transporter 16 may include a path 16 a for conveying data cards 14 to the card holder 18 and a path 16 b for conveying data cards 14 to the card read-write device 12. It should be appreciated that the card transporter 16 can include any mechanism or set of mechanisms which can transport data cards 14, whether or not rollers are included.

The card holder 18, in one embodiment, includes at least one spring 24 which compresses the data cards and a feeder 26 adapted to feed a single data card 14 from the card holder 18 into the rollers 22 of the transport 16. It should be appreciated that the card holder 18 can include any mechanism or set of mechanisms which enables the card transporter 16 to store and retrieve data cards 14. For example, the card holder could include a chute (not shown) which, when closed, stores data cards and when opened enables a single data card to drop into a card tray (not shown) for collection by a player. In yet another embodiment, the card holder can include one or more rollers or wheels which can selectively hold and release data cards. The wheels may rotate upon the occurrence of predetermined events to feed particular data cards to a card transporter or directly to a card tray. It should be appreciated that the card holder can include any mechanism capable of holding or storing a plurality of data cards and enabling the gaming device to dispense the data cards to players.

In one embodiment, the gaming device includes a plurality of card holders designated for holding different types of data cards (such as data cards with integrated circuits, magnetic cards, optical cards, used cards and unused or new cards). Here, the data exchange card read-write device enables the gaming device processor to read and write machine readable data to different types of cards for those gaming devices which accommodate different types of data cards. In any case in this embodiment, players can use different types of circulating data cards to play the gaming device.

As illustrated in FIGS. 2A and 2B, in one embodiment gaming device 10 b includes a card management assembly 11 b for receiving a data card 14 a. Here, the gaming device processor, using the read-write device, reads the data card 14 a and stores the credit unit data on that card in the memory of the gaming device as described below and as indicated by block 28. The processor then resets the data card 14 a, bringing it to a predetermined state (such as a blank state or face value state), also as indicated by block 28. Then the gaming device processor causes the transport to move this (now) reset data card 14 a to the card holder 18 where a plurality of other data cards are stored.

The processor uses the gaming device memory to keep track of the player's credit units and cash balance as the player plays the game. If the player uses or exhausts all of the credit units, the game terminates and the gaming device does not dispense a data card to the player. However, if the player who inserted the data card 14 a cashes out or terminates the game and has credits, the gaming device processor causes the feeder 26 to feed a data card 14 a from the card holder 18 to the transport for conveyance to the card read-write device. There the processor stores data on that data card 14 b which corresponds to or is associated with the amount of remaining credits or cash balance, by writing data as indicated by block 30. The gaming device 10 b then dispenses the data card 14 b to the player.

The gaming device processor, in one embodiment, uses a computer program to operate the gaming device in conjunction with circulating data cards. The computer program can be stored in any memory or data storage device. The storage device can include software and/or hardware, including, without limitation, any tape or any disk, such as a CD-ROM, floppy disk, hard disk or any other optical or magnetic disk.

In one embodiment, the computer program instructs the gaming device processor to cause the gaming device to: (a) receive a certain amount of currency; (b) designate for a player a certain amount of credits which corresponds to the amount of currency received; (c) initiate a game; (d) enable the player to gain and lose credits while playing the game; (e) track any credit gains and losses; (f) terminate the game after the player cashes out or after the player loses a certain amount of credits; (g) retrieve a data card from the card holder; (h) change data on the retrieved data card; and (i) dispense the data card to the player.

In another embodiment, the computer program instructs the gaming device processor to cause the gaming device to: (a) receive a certain amount of currency; (b) designate for a player a certain amount of credits which corresponds to the amount of currency received; (c) initiate a game; (d) enable the player to gain and lose credits while playing the game; (e) track any credit gains and losses; (f) terminate the game after the player cashes out or after the player loses a certain amount of credits; (g) retrieve a blank data card from the card holder; (h) change data the blank data card to a charged data card; and (i) dispense the charged data card to the player.

In yet another embodiment, the computer program instructs the gaming device processor to cause the gaming device to: (a) receive a data card having credit unit data or other data corresponding to or associated with a certain amount of credit units or cash; (b) designate for a player a certain amount of credits which corresponds to such data stored on the received data card; (c) initiate a game; (d) enable the player to gain and lose credits while playing the game; (f) track any credit gains and losses; (g) terminate the game after the player cashes out or after the player loses a certain amount of credits; (h) reset the received data card; (i) move the received data card to the card holder; (j) retrieve a data card from the card holder; (k) change data on the retrieved data card; and (l) dispense the retrieved data card to the player.

In another embodiment, the computer program instructs the gaming device processor to cause the gaming device to: (a) receive a data card having credit unit data or other data corresponding to or associated with a certain amount of credit units or cash; (b) designate for a player a certain amount of credits which corresponds to such data stored on the received data card; (c) initiate a game; (d) enable the player to gain and lose credits while playing the game; (e) track any credit gains and losses; (f) terminate the game after the player cashes out or after the player loses a certain amount of credits; (g) update the received data card; and (h) dispense the received data card to the player.

In one embodiment illustrated in FIG. 3, gaming device 10 c includes a card management assembly 11 c for receiving data card 14 c with data associated with a certain amount of credit units or cash and dispensing this same data card 14 c back to the player if credits remain when the player cashes out. If the player loses all of his/her credits, the gaming device processor resets data card. The processor then causes the transport to move data card 14 c to the card holder for storage and future dispensing. If, on the other hand, when the player cashes out or terminates the game, a certain amount of credit remains, the gaming device processor updates the data on the data card 14 c to correspond to the amount of credits or cash possessed by the player at the point of cash out, as indicated by block 32. The updating may be accomplished by writing data, as described below. In any case, gaming device 10 c then dispenses this data card 14 c to the player with the data associated with the player's balance of appropriate credit or cash. It should be appreciated that the card may be retained in the card read-write device or in the card holder while the player plays the gaming device.

The embodiments described in FIGS. 2A, 2B and 3 include techniques which gaming devices may employ to reuse and manipulate data cards. In one embodiment, these techniques preserve gaming device and data card resources and also simplify the manipulation of data cards within the gaming devices. Either one of these techniques may be suitable for different types of gaming devices and different types of games. It should be appreciated that the gaming device can include alternate, suitable techniques for reusing, resetting, updating and manipulating data cards within the gaming device.

B. Data Card

The gaming device processor or a currency station can reset the data cards repeatedly so that a single population of circulating data cards can serve different players at different times. The data card may be universal, meaning that it can be used by different players and different times. Though the data card is, in one embodiment, substantially rectangular and sized for a wallet, the data card can be of any suitable shape or size.

The type of data card suitable may have the capacity to be repeatedly reset and, in one embodiment, can be repeatedly changed between: (a) a blank state and a charged state; or (b) a face value charged state and a different charged state. During the life time of a single data card, the data card can be reset or otherwise brought to a particular state on numerous occasions. In one embodiment, the data card can be reset and brought to a particular state (such as a blank state or a face value state) hundreds or possibly thousands of times without jeopardizing the integrity or functionality of the data card.

The gaming device may be operable to receive currency (as described below) or the gaming device need not be adapted to receive currency. In such a non-currency embodiment, players are required to obtain data cards or tokens from currency stations in order to play the gaming device. In one embodiment, after players have finished playing, all reset data cards remain in the gaming devices and players take charged data cards to a currency station for redemption. In one embodiment, periodically a gaming enterprise employee redistributes reset data cards which have accumulated in gaming devices and currency stations in order to maintain a relatively even distribution of reset data cards in the desired places. This embodiment may be most useful to gaming enterprises which have a policy against storing currency or cash on the “floor.”

In one embodiment, the data card includes an integrated circuit or chip, as described below. The integrated circuit includes a data card processor and one or more memory devices. These data cards are commonly known as I/C cards or chip cards, and are also known as “smart cards” though this term is often casually used to refer to data cards in general (whether or not they include an integrated circuit). These types of data cards are commercially available from a variety of data card manufacturing companies and can be programmed for different purposes. In one embodiment, the data card includes retain code stored in its memory. When the data card has reached a predetermined state (such as a blank state or a particular face value) or when a player reaches a certain credit balance (such as zero), the retain code instructs the gaming device processor to cause the gaming device to keep or retain the data card provided by the player. The retain code can also instruct the data card processor and/or the gaming device processor to reset the data card and have it stored in the gaming device for future use.

In other embodiments, the data card does not include an integrated circuit or chip. Instead, the data card may include one or more mechanisms which enable the gaming device processor to read, change and reset the data stored on the data card. These mechanisms may include magnetic codes, optical codes, bar codes and/or other suitable technologies.

As further described below, in one embodiment the data card includes: (a) a thermo-sensitive graphics recording member or strip on the front side of the card; and (b) an elongated magnetic member or strip. The graphics recording strip enables a thermal graphics writer to record player-readable graphics on the card, and the recording strip also enables a thermal graphics eraser to erase graphics on the card. The magnetic strip enables a data exchange read-write device to read machine readable data stored on the card and to store machine-readable data on the card.

One or more security devices or security techniques may be incorporated into the data cards. Such security devices or techniques can prevent, deter or hinder unauthorized people from rewriting or changing data stored in the data cards.

In one embodiment, a suitable encryption method or encryption code is used to encrypt the data stored on the data card. Here, the gaming devices and currency stations can include a key code, unlock code or translation code. The gaming devices and currency stations use this code to access, read and/or write to the data card. In other embodiments, holographic images and/or isotope materials are incorporated into the data card to help ensure the authenticity of the data cards. It should be appreciated that other suitable know security devices and methods to aid in the security of the data cards can be utilized.

C. Operation

As illustrated in FIG. 4, a plurality of data cards (represented generally by data cards 34) may be both received and dispensed by a plurality of gaming devices (represented by gaming devices 36 a through 36 c). The same data card can be used by different players on different occasions. For example, a particular player A may initiate a game by depositing currency in a gaming device 36 a illustrated by block 38. The gaming device 36 a houses or stores a plurality of blank data cards 34 in a card holder 40 a. When player A deposits currency in gaming device 36 a, a card transporter in the gaming device brings one of the blank data cards 34 into contact with a gaming device interface. The gaming device processor, using a card read-write device, writes fund data corresponding to a certain amount of credit units on the data card which, in turn, corresponds to the amount of currency deposited.

After player A makes the deposit, the gaming device processor causes fund data corresponding to one hundred fifty credit units to be written on data card 34 a. Player A then plays one or more games at that gaming device 36 a. If the player cashes out or terminates the game with credits remaining, the gaming device will dispense data card 34 a with the credit, cash or fund data corresponding to the appropriate amount of remaining credits. In this example, player A purchases one hundred fifty credit units for data card 34 a, plays the game and wins an additional fifty credits, bringing the player's balance to a total of two hundred credit units. Player A then cashes out, and gaming device 36 a dispenses data card 34 a with data associated with two hundred credit units or data associated with the cash equivalent of such credit units.

Player A then inserts that data card 34 a into gaming device 36 b in order to play one or more games there. Player A loses one hundred twenty-five credits while playing gaming device 36 b before cashing out or terminating the game. The processor in gaming device 36 b updates the fund data on the data card 34 a to reflect a new credit unit amount of seventy-five. The gaming device 36 b then dispenses this data card 34 a to player A.

Continuing with the example, player A takes this data card 34 a with seventy-five credit units and inserts it into gaming device 36 c. While playing the game at gaming device 36 c, player A loses the remaining seventy-five credit units. The processor of gaming device 36 c resets the data card 34 a to a blank state, and the processor then causes the card transporter to move data card 34 a into a card holder 40 a within gaming device 36 c.

Player A then leaves or walks away from gaming device 36 c with no data card and no currency or payout, as indicated by block 42. As indicated by block 44, a different player B may deposit currency into gaming device 36 c. The processor of gaming device 36 c may write fund data associated with to a certain amount of credit units onto data card 34 a. This amount of credit units will correspond to the amount of currency inserted into gaming device 36 c. In this example, the processor writes onto the data card 34 a, fund data which is associated with three hundred credit units or fund data associated with the cash equivalent of such credit units.

While playing gaming device 36 c, player B earns an additional two hundred credits, and the processor stores fund data associated with an additional two hundred credit units (or the cash equivalent thereof) on data card 34 a appropriately. Player B then may cash out and receive data card 34 a having fund data associated with five hundred credit units stored on it or fund data associated with the cash equivalent of such credits. At this point, the player B may then take this data card 34 a to a currency station and exchange it for the appropriate amount of currency. In this example, player B takes data card 34 a to currency station 46.

Depending upon the particular embodiment, the currency station 46 can be a clerk validation terminal (CVT), gaming machine, wireless cashier or a manually operated cashier station. Whether the currency station is automated or run by an operator, the currency station receives the data card 34 a and initially validates the data card 34 a. This validation step involves reading the information on the data card 34 a and comparing this information to information stored in the pay validation system described below. Upon successful validation, the currency station 46 reads the fund data on this data card 34 a, resets this data card 34 a and stores it with other blank data cards 34 in card holder 40 b. In addition, currency station 46 dispenses or provides a certain amount of currency to player B which corresponds to the fund data which remained on data card 34 a, when provided to the currency station, as indicated by block 48.

In an example of one embodiment illustrated in FIG. 5, a single data card A is circulated to three players: player A, player B and player C. Initially, data card A is at a blank state stored in a currency station where player A deposits a certain amount of currency. The amount of currency deposited corresponds to six credit units. The currency station provides data card A to the player with fund data corresponding to six credit units. In playing one or more gaming devices, player A loses two credits and then gains three credits before cashing out. Consequently, when the player cashes out, a gaming device dispenses data card A with fund data corresponding to seven credit units. Player A then takes data card A to a currency station and, upon validation, receives a cash payout corresponding to the seven credit units. The currency station then returns the data card A to a blank state.

Player B then deposits a certain amount of currency at a currency station and in turn receives data card A with fund data corresponding to five credit units. In playing one or more gaming devices, player B earns two credits and then loses seven credits. Accordingly, the fund data on the data card is changed to reflect an increase by two and then a decrease to zero. Player B then leaves the gaming device and walks away with no currency and with data card A remaining inside the gaming device. Player C then deposits a certain amount of currency into this gaming device and the processor of the gaming device changes the data card A from the blank state to a charged state having fund data reflecting three credit units. Player C plays the gaming device and earns seven credits before cashing out. The processor of the gaming device thus changes the fund data on data card A to reflect an increase to ten credit units and dispenses data card A to player C. Player C then takes data card A to a currency station. Upon validation, the currency exchange provides the player C with an amount of currency corresponding to the ten credit units.

In another embodiment, the gaming device is adapted to receive a plurality of data cards with predetermined face values or preset credit units. For example, such data cards could be a set of data cards with fund data associated with five credit units and a set of data cards with fund data associated with to ten credit units. These data cards, in one embodiment, do not reach a blank state. Instead, after use, they are returned to their predetermined face value or state. Data cards of different face values can be stored in various gaming device card holders designated for such data cards.

This embodiment may be desirable to gaming enterprises which have various games which require various minimum credits to initiate the games. In the example illustrated in FIG. 6, player A obtains a five credit unit data card B by depositing the amount of currency corresponding to five credits in a gaming device. Using data card B at a gaming device, player A initially loses two credits and then gains four credits before cashing out. The processor of the gaming device updates the fund data on the data card B to reflect seven credit units. Player A then takes this data card B to a currency station and, upon validation, receives a cash equivalent of seven credit units. The currency station then returns the data card B to its predetermined face value or charged state reflecting five credit units. Player B then obtains the same data card B by depositing the amount of currency corresponding to five credit units in a currency station. After doing so, player B uses data card B to play a game and earns an additional seven credits, and the processor of the gaming device adjusts or updates the fund data on the data card B to reflect an amount of twelve credit units. Player B then takes this data card B to a currency station. Upon validation, the currency exchange provides the player B with an amount of currency corresponding to twelve credit units. The currency station returns this data card B to its predetermined face value or preset charged state reflecting five credit units.

Player C then deposits an amount of currency equivalent to five credit units in a currency station and receives data card B which has fund data associated with five credit units. After doing so, player C inserts data card B into a gaming device, plays the gaming device and loses three credits. The processor of the gaming device initially erases, removes or modifies the fund data to correspond to five credit units so as to return to card B three credit units to its predetermined face value. The gaming device then stores this data card B for future use, and player C walks away from the gaming device with no data card and no currency.

It should be appreciated that the gaming device processor can change, erase or add fund data on a data card at the beginning of a game, ending of a game, at cash out or any time during the operation of the gaming device. In addition, it should be appreciated that the examples illustrated in FIGS. 4 through 6 involve a relatively small number of players merely for illustrative purposes. The gaming device may enable an individual or numerous different players to use the same data card on different occasions. This function of the gaming device, in one embodiment, resembles the role of currency, such as dollar bills, being used or handled by different members of the general public.

II. Card Management System for Cards with Graphical Display

Referring now to FIGS. 7 through 12, an embodiment of a gaming device 110 with a gaming device processor 112 and a card management system is illustrated. The card management system includes: (a) a card management assembly 114 positioned in the gaming device 110; and (b) a plurality of cards 116 manipulated and managed by the card management assembly 114 in the gaming device 110. As described above, in one embodiment the gaming device processor 112 is the processor which controls the general operation of the gaming device. In another embodiment, the processor 112 is an extra processor which is designated for controlling the card management system.

A. Card Management Assembly

As generally illustrated in FIG. 7, in one embodiment the card management assembly 114 includes: (a) a card processing station, bay or assembly 118 where the card 116 is processed and treated as described below; (b) a recycled or used card bin or used card holder 120 for holding used cards 116 a which have been used on one or more occasions by a player; (c) a new card bin or new card holder 122 for holding new cards 116 b which have not previously been used by a player; and (d) a lower support member, platform or pan 123 which functions as a common mount for the card processing assembly 118, used card holder 120 and new card holder 122.

1. Card Processing Assembly

As best illustrated in FIGS. 8, 9 and 10, in one embodiment, the card processing assembly 118 includes: (a) a base support unit or lower base member 124 having a plurality of walls 125 and a card track or card support member 139 for supporting the card 116 while the card 116 is in motion or at rest; (b) a suitable card entry sensor 127, such as one having a light source 127 a and a photo eye or light receiver 127 b; (c) a card transporter 130 for moving the card 116 to and from certain portions of the card processing assembly 114; (d) a data read-write device or data reader-writer 132 supported by the base member 124 for reading machine readable data stored on the data card 116 and for writing and storing machine readable data on the data card 116; (e) a graphics printing device graphics recorder or graphics printer 134 for printing, recording or forming text, symbols, images or other graphics on the data card 116 through the use of heat, chemical treatment or other suitable techniques; (f) a graphics erasing device or graphics eraser 136 for partially, substantially or entirely erasing or hiding text, symbols, images or other graphics on the data card 116; and (g) an upper or top support unit or top member 137 which functions as a common mount for the card entry sensor 127, card transporter 130, graphics printer 134 and graphics eraser 136.

In one embodiment, the card entry sensor 127 is electrically or electronically connected to the card transporter 130. In operation, first the player inserts the card 116 through the card slot defined by the card acceptor or card entry wall 140 connected to the exterior of the gaming device 110. When the card 116 reaches the sensor 127, the sensor 127 detects the card 116 and transmits a signal to the motor of the card transporter 130. When the card transporter motor receives this signal, the motor activates the card transporter 130, and the card transporter 130 moves the card 116 into the gaming device 110.

In one embodiment, the card transporter 130 includes: (a) a plurality of gears or drive wheels 141; (b) a plurality of card engagement wheels 142 coupled to the drive wheels 141; and (c) one or more electrical motors (not shown) which are mechanically coupled to the drive wheels 141 and electronically coupled to the gaming device processor 112. In operation, when powered by the motor, the drive wheels 141 transmit force to the card engagement wheels 142 which, in turn, transmit force to the cards 116. Depending upon the rotational direction of the drive wheels 141, the card transporter 130 can draw the card 116 into the gaming device 110 or dispense the card 116 from the gaming device 110.

As best illustrated in FIG. 9, the data reader-writer 132 of the card processing assembly 118 can include any suitable electronic or electromagnetic card interface device which reads machine-readable data on the card 116 and also writes machine-readable data to the card 116. In one embodiment where the card 116 has a magnetic strip, layer or member 143 as described below, and the data reader-writer 132 includes an electromagnetic or magnetized device 144 which is in communication with the gaming device processor 112. When the card 116 enters the card processing assembly or station 118, the processor 112 uses the magnetized device 144 to read the data on the card 116 in order to determine if the card 116 is the proper type of card to be inserted into the gaming device 110. If so, the magnetized device 144 then reads other information on the card 116 such as the fund data corresponding to the total quantity of credit units and the name of the player. The processor 112 retrieves this information and stores this information in the memory device of the gaming device 110.

In one embodiment, where the card 116 includes a heat sensitive graphics recording medium or member 146 (illustrated in FIG. 11), the graphics printer 134 includes: (a) a laser, heat or thermal energy source (not shown) and a thermal energy director or printing head (not shown) which directs the energy source to designated areas or portions of the graphics recording member 146; and (b) a plurality of biasing members or springs 148 which bias the printing head against the graphics recording member 146. For example, the printing head can direct the thermal energy source so that the thermal energy source is applied to the graphics recording member 146 in a designated pattern or form. The processor 112 uses the graphics printer 134 to cause player-readable text, symbols, images or other graphics to appear on the graphics recording member 146. In one embodiment, when the player has completed playing the gaming device 110, the graphics printer 134 prints player-specific information on the recording member 146, such as the player's name and the player's balance of credit units (or the monetary value of such credit units).

In this embodiment, the graphics eraser 136 of the card processing assembly 118 may include: (a) a thermal energy source (not shown) and a thermal energy director or erasing head (not shown) which directs and applies the thermal energy source to part or all of the heat sensitive graphics recording member 146 of the card 116; and (b) a plurality of biasing members or springs 150 which bias the thermal energy director against the graphics recording member 146. As described below, when a certain degree or level of thermal energy is applied to the heat sensitive graphics recording member 146, the text, symbols, images or other graphics on the printing layer 146 have a decreased intensity, darkness or visibility or are otherwise removed, erased or become invisible. Using the graphics printer 134 and the graphics eraser 136, the processor 112 can print and erase player-readable text, symbols, images and other graphics on the card 116.

In one embodiment, the card 116 remains in the card processing assembly or station 118 while the player is playing the gaming device 110. In one example, when the player is finished playing, the processor 112 uses the magnetized device 144 to remove or adjust the fund data on the card 116 and to then store fund data associated with the player's current balance of credit units on the card 116. At this phase, the processor 112 may use the graphics eraser 136 to erase all text from the card 116, and the processor 112 may use the graphics printer 134 to print the player's name and the monetary equivalent of the player's credit balance on the card 116.

Next, the card transporter 130, under control of the processor 112, dispenses the card 116 to the player. In this case, the player leaves the gaming device 110 with the same card 116 which the player inserted into the gaming device 110. However, the card 116 has a different credit balance, a new printing of the player's name and a different player-readable monetary or purse value printed on the card 116.

2. Used Card Holder

In some cases, the player may finish playing the gaming device 110 with no remaining balance of credits, and the player may not be interested in keeping the card 116. In this scenario, the used card holder 120 of the card management assembly 114 functions as a repository or storage place for such used cards 116 a. As best illustrated in FIG. 9, the used card holder 120 includes: (a) a lower base unit or lower retaining member 152 having a plurality of retaining walls 154; and (b) an upper unit, top unit or top member 156 for manipulating the cards 116 and 116 a. The lower retaining member 152 may include a suitable card lifting mechanism or card lifting device 157 which applies a force to the bottom of the stack of cards 116 a. Depending upon the embodiment, the card lifting device 157 can include one or more biasing members, such as springs (not shown), or a motorized platform (not shown) which moves the stack of cards 116 a upward or downward depending upon whether a used card 116 a is entering or leaving the lower retaining member 152. In addition, the lower retaining member 152 can include a card level sensor 158 for sensing when the old card holder 120 is empty or when the quantity of old cards 116 a in the old card holder 120 has otherwise reached a designated level.

The top member 156 of the used card holder 120, in one embodiment, includes: (a) a sliding closure member, gate or door 159 shown partially open in FIG. 10; (b) a substantially flat support member or platform 160 positioned so as to overlay the door 159; (c) a coupling member or arm 162 which couples the door 159 to the platform 160; (d) a slide bar or rod 164 which couples the arm 162 to the platform 160, enabling the arm 162 and the door 158 to slide relative to the platform 160; (e) a motor 166; (f) a worm gear 168 which is coupled to the motor 166 and which is also engaged with the arm 162; and (g) a motor (not shown) which drives a card engagement wheel 170.

In operation, the gaming device processor 112 controls the motors of the used card holder 120 in order to selectively deposit used cards 116 into the used card holder 120 and to retrieve used cards 116 a from the used card holder 120.

In one embodiment, the memory device of the gaming device 110 includes at least one card management instruction, command or program. This card management program directs the processor 112 to move a card 116, which a player has used to play the gaming device, from the card processing station 118 to the used card holder 120 on one or more conditions. One condition is if such used card 116 remains in the processing station 118 a designated amount of time after the player has finished playing the gaming device 110. As described above, when the card 116 is in the processing station 118, the processor 112, in one embodiment, removes or adjusts the fund data from the card 116 and erases all graphics from the card. Therefore, when the player finishes playing the gaming device 110 with no remaining balance of credits, and the player is not interested in keeping the card 116, the processor 112 causes the processing station 118 to move the card 116 to the used card holder 120 after a certain period of time elapses.

At the same time or shortly thereafter, the processor 112 activates the motors of the used card holder 120 and causes the door 159 to slide away from the retaining walls 154, thereby exposing the opening 172. The processor 112 then causes the card engagement wheel 170 to rotate in a direction which directs the card 116 over the opening 172. When the card 116 reaches the opening 172, the card 116 drops into the lower retaining member 152.

Once a card 116 is erased and moved into the used card holder 120, the card 116, which at that point is a used card 116 a, is available for use by future players of the gaming device 110. For example, a new player may initiate play of the gaming device by depositing coins, tokens or a ticket into the gaming device 110. When this player finishes playing the gaming device 110, the player may have a balance of credit units. When the player cashes-out, the processor 112 initially causes the used card holder 120 to move one of the used cards 116 a to the card processing station 118. Specifically, the processor 112 controls the used card holder 120 so that the door 159 slides open, enabling the top card 116 a to exit the retaining member 152 and to rest on top of the door 159. Next, the card engagement wheel 170 rotates in such a direction so as to move the card 116 a toward the card processing assembly or station 118. The card processing assembly 118 then, under control of the processor 112, transfers fund data associated with the player's credit units to the card 116 a and also prints or forms graphics, such as the player's name and current monetary balance, on the card 116 a. Finally, the processor 112 causes the card processing assembly 118 to dispense the card 116 a to the player. In this fashion, the same card 116 can be reused or recycled time and time again by different players of the same or different gaming devices.

3. New Card Holder

It is expected that a certain percentage of players will begin playing the gaming device with a data card 116 and a certain percentage of players will begin playing the gaming device 110 without a data card 116 by using, for example, tokens, tickets or cash. If too many players begin playing the gaming device 110 without a data card 116, in comparison to the number of players who begin playing with a data card 116, the supply of used cards 116 a in the used card holder 116 may be depleted.

For this reason, the card management assembly 114 includes a new card holder 122 which holds a plurality of new or unused cards 116 b. In one embodiment, the new card holder 122 is positioned on the pan 123 in line with and directly behind the used card holder 120.

As best illustrated in FIG. 9, the new card holder 122 includes: (a) a lower base unit or lower retaining member 174 having a plurality of retaining walls 176; and (b) an upper unit, top unit or top member 178 for manipulating the cards 116 b. The lower retaining member 174 may include a suitable card lifting mechanism or card lifting device 180 which applies a force to the bottom of the stack of cards 116 b. Depending upon the embodiment, the card lifting device 180 can include one or more biasing members, such as springs (not shown), or a motorized platform (not shown) which moves the stack of cards 116 b upward depending upon when a new card 116 b is leaving the lower retaining member 174. In addition, the lower retaining member 174 can include a card level sensor 181 for sensing when the new card holder 122 is empty or when the quantity of new cards 116 b in the new card holder 122 has otherwise reached to a designated level.

The top member 178 of the used card holder 122, in one embodiment, includes: (a) a sliding closure member, gate or door 182 shown closed in FIG. 10; (b) a substantially flat support member or platform 184 positioned so as to overlay the door 182; (c) a coupling member or arm 186 which couples the door 182 to the platform 184; (d) a slide bar or rod 188 which couples the arm 186 to the platform 184, enabling the arm 186 and the door 182 to slide relative to the platform 184; (e) a motor 190; (f) a worm gear 192 which is coupled to the motor 190 and which is also engaged with the arm 186; and (g) a motor (not shown) which drives a card engagement wheel 194.

In operation, the gaming device processor 112 controls the motors of the new card holder 122 in order to selectively retrieve new cards 116 b from the new card holder 122. In one embodiment, the memory device of the gaming device 110 includes at least one card management instruction, command or program. This card management program directs the processor 112 to retrieve a new card 116 b from the new card holder 122 on one or more conditions. One condition is if the old card holder 120 is empty, as detected by the card level sensor 158 of the used card holder 120.

If this condition occurs, the processor 112 initially causes the door 158 of the old card holder 120 to remain closed, and the processor 112 causes the new card holder 122 to move one of the new cards 116 b from the top member 178 of the new card holder 122, through the top member 156 of the used card holder 120 and to the card processing station 118. Specifically, the processor 112 controls the new card holder 122 so that the door 182 slides open, enabling the top card 116 b to exit the retaining member 174 and to rest on top of the door 182. Next, the card engagement wheel 194 rotates in such a direction so as to move the card 116 b toward the old card holder 120.

The processor 112 then causes the card engagement wheel 170 of the old card holder 120 to force the new card 116 b toward the card processing assembly or station 118. The card processing assembly 118 then, under control of the processor 112, transfers fund data corresponding to the player's credit units to the new card 116 b and also prints graphics, such as the player's name and current monetary balance, on the new card 116 b. Finally, the processor 112 causes the card processing assembly 118 to dispense the new card 116 b to the player. In this fashion, the gaming device 110 can provide players with data cards even after there are no more used cards 116 a in the gaming device 110.

In one embodiment, the gaming device processor 112 uses both of the card level sensors 158 and 181 to determine or monitor the levels of cards 116 in the card holders 120 and 122. In one embodiment, when the processor 112 determines that the amount of cards 116 a or 116 b has been reduced to a certain level, the processor 112 provides a suitable output or message either on the gaming device 110 or on a facility management or maintenance system.

B. Data Card

Referring now to FIGS. 11 and 12, in one embodiment, the front side or face 198 of the data card 116 includes a printing medium or a graphics recording member 146 which can include one or more layers of material. The graphics recording member 146 may be a thermosensitive recording medium or member or a thermo-reversible medium or member. In one embodiment, the graphics recording member 146 may include one or more low-molecular weight materials, and when these materials are heated to different levels of temperature, these materials change to have different reflection densities. For example, one level of heat may cause the graphics recording member 146 to have a transparent state, and another level of heat may cause the graphics recording member 146 to have an opaque state. In another embodiment, when different levels of heat are applied to the graphics recording member 146, different chemical reactions occur in the graphics recording member 146. Here, one type of chemical reaction can cause the graphics recording member 146 to have one color, and a different chemical reaction can cause the graphics recording member 146 to have a different color.

In one embodiment, the thermosensitive recording member 146 has a plurality of different light transmission states associated with different levels of heat. The different light transmission states can include a transparent state, an opaque state and other states. In one embodiment, each of the light transmission states is associated with a graphical characteristic including, without limitation, black, white, color, shade and intensity.

In another embodiment, the thermosensitive recording member 146 has a plurality of different chemical states associated with different levels of heat where each of the chemical states may be associated with a graphical characteristic including, without limitation, black, white, color, shade and intensity.

In the embodiment where the recording member 146 is a thermo-reversible or thermosensitive member, the thermal head (not shown) of the graphics printer 134 applies a designated level of heat to a pattern on the recording member 146. If, for example, the pattern is the letters for the text 202, the face 198 of the card 116 displays the player-readable text 202, which in this example, is the name of the player. In another example, if the pattern is the player-readable text 204, the face 198 of the card 116 displays the text 204 to the player. In this example, the text 204 is the monetary equivalent or purse amount of the player's credit unit balance on the card 116.

The graphics eraser 136 can erase this text 202 and 204 by applying a certain level of heat to the recording member 146. Accordingly, the recording member 146 can be written upon and erased time and time again.

It should be appreciated that various suitable sizes and types of the recording member 146 can be used to accommodate different types, sizes, color and shapes of different text, images, symbols and graphics which the card processing assembly 18 may print on and remove from the recording member 146.

As illustrated in FIG. 12, the backside 205 of the card 116 includes a magnetic layer, strip, member, or magnetic memory device 143 which magnetically stores machine-readable data, codes or information. Using the reader-writer 132, the gaming device processor 112 can read this machine-readable code and also write this code onto the card 116. When the processor 112 stores fund data or information on the magnetic memory device 143, this data remains on the card 116. The player can take this charged card 116 to a currency station, such as a clerk validation terminal (CVT). The currency station, in one embodiment, has a magnetic read-write device which reads the fund data on the magnetic memory strip 143. By communicating with an electronic pay validation system, the currency station verifies the amount of currency payable to the player. Upon successful verification, the currency station provides the appropriate amount of currency to the player. In one embodiment, the magnetic member 143 includes one of the magnetic strips which is commercially available and commonly used on credit cards, and debit cards and the like.

III. Data Card Having Processor

Referring to FIG. 13, in one alternative embodiment, the gaming device may be used in conjunction with a data card 206 which includes: (a) a data card processor 208 which communicates with EEPROM (Erasable Electrically Programmable Read-Only Memory) 210; (b) data card ROM (Read-Only Memory) 212; (c) data card RAM (Random Access Memory) 214; and (d) data card interface 216. The data card processor 208 can include any processor which has the function and size suitable for integration into a data card. Data card processor 208 operates on a suitable operating system. The operating system known as mask may be one example of a suitable operating system. EEPROM 210 is a flexible and robust form of nonvolatile memory. Data stored in EEPROM 210 remains there even when there is no power supply, and the data can be changed relatively quickly and easily, although not as quickly as data can be changed in data card RAM 214. EEPROM 210 may store variable credit unit data, as described below.

Data card ROM 212 stores computer programs or code which the data card processor 208 uses to erase and write data. Data card ROM 212 may include retain code which instructs the gaming device processor and/or the data card processor 208 to cause the gaming device to retain the data card 206 once it reaches a predetermined state or once a player reaches a certain balance of credits, such as a zero balance. In one embodiment, data card ROM 212 includes data regarding a predetermined number of times in which the data card 206 can be reset or returned to a predetermined state. Data card processor 208 uses this data to deactivate data card 206 at the appropriate time. This deactivation ensures that older data cards which are vulnerable to dysfunction are removed from circulation at the proper time. Data card RAM 214 includes data which may vary from time to time. For example, RAM 214 may include data regarding how many times a data card 206 has been used or which gaming devices have received the data card 206.

Data card interface 216 can include any mechanism, connection or terminal which is capable of enabling the data card processor 208 to exchange data with the gaming device processor. In one embodiment, the data card interface 216 includes one or more metal contacts (not shown) which are connected to the data card processor 208 and which are exposed at the surface of the data card 206. These contacts are adapted to make direct contact with the contacts of a gaming device interface. In another embodiment, data card interface 216 does not include such contacts, but rather includes the mechanisms necessary for the data card processor 208 to communicate with the processor of the gaming device without physical contact between data card 206 or any interface or portion of the gaming device. In one embodiment, such a contact-free interface involves electrical current running through coiled wire included in the data card interface 216 and an electromagnetic field generated by the gaming device interface.

In one embodiment, EEPROM 210 includes a predetermined number of memory cells which are preset to “1.” Each “1” corresponds to a credit unit. Thus, if a player purchases ten credit units, ten of the memory cells in the data card would be written or set to “1.” In response to messages received by the gaming device processor, the data card processor 208 writes or rewrites data to the memory cells.

For each credit lost during a game, the gaming device processor may rewrite to a memory cell from “1” to “0”, and for each credit gained during a game the data card processor 208 may rewrite a memory cell from “0” to “1”. Alternatively, the gaming device processor can be programmed to minimize rewrites by not causing the data card processor 208 to write memory cells until the player cashes out or terminates the game. At that point, the gaming device processor may subtract all credit losses from all credit gains, resulting in a net credit. The gaming device processor could then cause the data card processor 208 to rewrite a certain number of memory cells from “0” to “1,” where the number of rewrites corresponds to the net credit. It may be preferable that if a player loses all credits during a game, such that all memory cells are set to “0” or there is no net credit, the gaming device processor causes the game to terminate.

In another embodiment, the data card need not include EEPROM or the other memory devices illustrated in FIG. 13. Rather, the data card may include non-EEPROM technology and/or alternate, suitable data storage devices which the data card processor and/or gaming device processor can use.

IV. Gaming Device

The card management system can be used in conjunction with any suitable type of gaming device. Referring now to FIGS. 14A and 14B, two alternative embodiments of the gaming device are illustrated as gaming device 310 a and gaming device 310 b, respectively. Gaming device 310 a and/or gaming device 310 b are generally referred to herein as gaming device 310.

In one embodiment, as illustrated in FIGS. 14A and 14B, gaming device 310 has a support structure, housing or cabinet which provides support for a plurality of displays, inputs, controls and other features of a conventional gaming machine. It is configured so that a player can operate it while standing or sitting. The gaming device may be positioned on a base or stand or can be configured as a pub-style table-top game (not shown) which a player can operate while sitting. As illustrated by the different configurations shown in FIGS. 14A and 14B, the gaming device can be constructed with varying cabinet and display configurations.

In one embodiment, as illustrated in FIG. 15A, the gaming device may include at least one processor 312, such as a microprocessor, a microcontroller-based platform, a suitable integrated circuit or one or more application-specific integrated circuits (ASIC's). The processor may be in communication with or operable to access or to exchange signals with at least one data storage or memory device 314. In one embodiment, the processor and the memory device reside within the cabinet of the gaming device. The memory device stores program code and instructions, executable by the processor, to control the gaming device. The memory device also stores other data such as image data, event data, player input data, random or pseudo-random number generators, pay-table data or information and applicable game rules that relate to the play of the gaming device. In one embodiment, the memory device store fund data, credit data or credit unit data. In one embodiment, the memory device includes random access memory (RAM). In one embodiment, the memory device includes read only memory (ROM). In one embodiment, the memory device includes flash memory and/or EEPROM (electrically erasable programmable read only memory). Any other suitable magnetic, optical and/or semiconductor memory may be implemented in conjunction with the gaming device.

In one embodiment, part or all of the program code and/or operating data described above can be stored in a detachable or removable memory device, including, but not limited to, a suitable cartridge, disk or CD ROM. A player can use such a removable memory device in a desktop, a laptop personal computer, a personal digital assistant (PDA) or other computerized platform. The processor and memory device may be collectively referred to herein as a “computer” or “controller.”

In one embodiment, as discussed in more detail below, the gaming device randomly generates awards and/or other game outcomes based on probability data. That is, each award or other game outcome is associated with a probability and the gaming device generates the award or other game outcome to be provided to the player based on the associated probabilities. In this embodiment, since the gaming device generates outcomes randomly or based upon a probability calculation, there is no certainty that the gaming device will ever provide the player with any specific award or other game outcome.

In another embodiment, as discussed in more detail below, the gaming device employs a predetermined or finite set or pool of awards or other game outcomes. In this embodiment, as each award or other game outcome is provided to the player, the gaming device removes the provided award or other game outcome from the predetermined set or pool. Once removed from the set or pool, the specific provided award or other game outcome cannot be provided to the player again. This type of gaming device provides players with all of the available awards or other game outcomes over the course of the play cycle and guarantees the amount of actual wins and losses.

In one embodiment, as illustrated in FIG. 14A, the gaming device includes one or more display devices controlled by the processor. The display devices may be connected to or mounted to the cabinet of the gaming device. The embodiment shown in FIG. 14A includes a central display device 316 which displays a primary game. This display device may also display any secondary game associated with the primary game as well as information relating to the primary or secondary game. The alternative embodiment shown in FIG. 14B includes a central display device 316 and an upper display device 318. The upper display device may display the primary game, any suitable secondary game associated with the primary game and/or information relating to the primary or secondary game. As seen in FIGS. 14A and 14B, in one embodiment, the gaming device includes a credit display 320 which displays a player's current number of credits, cash, account balance or the equivalent. In one embodiment, the gaming device includes a bet display 322 which displays a player's amount wagered.

The display devices may include, without limitation, a monitor, a television display, a plasma display, a liquid crystal display (LCD) a display based on light emitting diodes (LED) or any other suitable electronic device or display mechanism. In one embodiment, as described in more detail below, the display device includes a touch-screen with an associated touch-screen controller. The display devices may be of any suitable configuration, such as a square, rectangle, elongated rectangle.

The display devices of the gaming device may be configured to display at least one and preferably a plurality of game or other suitable images, symbols and indicia such as any visual representation or exhibition of the movement of objects such as mechanical, virtual or video reels and wheels, dynamic lighting, video images, images of people, characters, places, things and faces of cards, tournament advertisements and the like.

In one alternative embodiment, the symbols, images and indicia displayed on or of the display device may be in mechanical form. That is, the display device may include any electromechanical device, such as one or more mechanical objects, such as one or more rotatable wheels, reels or dice, configured to display at least one and preferably a plurality of game or other suitable images, symbols or indicia.

As illustrated in FIGS. 14A and 14B, in one embodiment, the gaming device includes at least one currency acceptor 326 in communication with the processor. The currency acceptor 326 may include a coin slot or a payment, note or bill acceptor, where the player inserts money, tickets, coins or tokens.

Also, in this embodiment, the gaming device includes a data card acceptor 328 where the player can insert data cards 14 and 116 into the gaming device and receive data cards 14 and 116 from the gaming device. In one embodiment, money may be transferred to a gaming device through electronic funds transfer. When a player funds the gaming device, the processor determines the amount of funds entered and the corresponding amount is shown on the credit or other suitable display as described above.

As seen in FIGS. 14A, 14B and 15A, in one embodiment the gaming device includes at least one and preferably a plurality of input devices 330 in communication with the processor. The input devices can include any suitable device which enables the player to produce an input signal which is read by the processor. In one embodiment, after appropriate funding of the gaming device, the input device is a game activation device, such as a pull arm 332 or a play button 334 which is used by the player to start any primary game or sequence of events in the gaming device. The play button can be any suitable play activator such as a bet one button, a max bet button or a repeat the bet button. In one embodiment, upon appropriate funding, the gaming device begins the game play automatically. In another embodiment, upon the player engaging one of the play buttons, the gaming device automatically activates game play.

In one embodiment, as shown in FIGS. 14A and 14B, one input device is a bet one button 336. The player places a bet by pushing the bet one button. The player can increase the bet by one credit each time the player pushes the bet one button. When the player pushes the bet one button, the number of credits shown in the credit display may decrease by one, and the number of credits shown in the bet display may increase by one. In another embodiment, one input device is a bet max button (not shown) which enables the player to bet the maximum wager permitted for a game of the gaming device.

In one embodiment, one input device is a cash out button 338. The player may push the cash out button and cash out to receive a data card charged with credit units, a cash payment or other suitable form of payment corresponding to the number of remaining credits. In one embodiment, when the player cashes out, the player receives the coins or tokens in a coin payout tray 340.

In one embodiment, as mentioned above and seen in FIG. 15A, one input device is a touch-screen 342 coupled with a touch-screen controller 344, or some other touch-sensitive display overlay to allow for player interaction with the images on the display. The touch-screen and the touch-screen controller are connected to a video controller 346. A player can make decisions and input signals into the gaming device by touching touch-screen at the appropriate places.

The gaming device may further include a plurality of communication ports for enabling communication of the processor with external peripherals, such as external video sources, expansion buses, game or other displays, an SCSI port or a key pad.

In one embodiment, as seen in FIG. 15A, the gaming device includes a sound generating device controlled by one or more sound cards 348 which function in conjunction with the processor. In one embodiment, the sound generating device includes at least one but possibly a plurality of speakers 350 or other sound generating hardware and/or software for generating sounds, such as playing music for the primary and/or secondary game or for other modes of the gaming device, such as an attract mode. In one embodiment, the gaming device provides dynamic sounds coupled with attractive multimedia images displayed on one or more of the display devices to provide an audio-visual representation or to otherwise display full-motion video with sound to attract players to the gaming device. During idle periods, the gaming device may display a sequence of audio and/or visual attraction messages to attract potential players to the gaming device. The videos may also be customized for or to provide any appropriate information.

In one embodiment, the gaming machine may include a player or other sensor, such as a camera in communication with the processor (and possibly controlled by the processor) that is selectively positioned to acquire an image of a player actively using the gaming device and/or the surrounding area of the gaming device. In one embodiment, the camera may be configured to selectively acquire still or moving (e.g., video) images and may be configured to acquire the images in either an analog, digital or other suitable format. The display devices may be configured to display the image acquired by the camera as well as display the visible manifestation of the game in split screen or picture-in-picture fashion. For example, the camera may acquire an image of the player and that image can be incorporated into the primary and/or secondary game as a game image, symbol or indicia.

Gaming device 310 can incorporate any suitable wagering primary or base game. The gaming machine or the gaming device may include some or all of the features of conventional gaming machines or devices. The primary or base game may comprise any suitable reel-type game, card game, number game or other game of chance susceptible to representation in an electronic or electromechanical form which produces a random outcome based on probability data upon activation from a wager. That is, different primary wagering games, such as video poker games, video blackjack games, video Keno, video bingo or any other suitable primary or base game may be implemented.

In one embodiment, as illustrated in FIGS. 14A and 14B, a base or primary game may be a slot game with one or more paylines 352. The paylines may be horizontal, vertical, circular, diagonal, angled or any combination thereof. In this embodiment, the gaming device displays at least one and preferably a plurality of reels 354, such as three to five reels 354 in either electromechanical form with mechanical rotating reels or video form with simulated reels and movement thereof. In one embodiment, an electromechanical slot machine includes a plurality of adjacent, rotatable wheels which may be combined and operably coupled with an electronic display of any suitable type. In another embodiment, if the reels 354 are in video form, the plurality of simulated video reels 354 are displayed on one or more of the display devices as described above. Each reel 354 displays a plurality of indicia such as bells, hearts, fruits, numbers, letters, bars or other images which may correspond to a theme associated with the gaming device. In this embodiment, the gaming device awards prizes when the reels of the primary game stop spinning if specified types and/or configurations of indicia or symbols occur on an active pay line or otherwise occur in a winning pattern.

In one embodiment, a base or primary game may be a poker game wherein the gaming device enables the player to play a conventional game of video poker and initially deals five cards all face up from a virtual deck of fifty-two card deck. Cards may be dealt as in a traditional game of cards or in the case of the gaming device, may also include that the cards are randomly selected from a predetermined number of cards. If the player wishes to draw, the player selects the cards to hold via one or more input device, such as pressing related hold buttons or via the touch screen. The player then presses the deal button and the unwanted or discarded cards are removed from the display and replacement cards are dealt from the remaining cards in the deck. This results in a final five-card hand. The final five-card hand is compared to a payout table which utilizes conventional poker hand rankings to determine the winning hands. The player is provided with an award based on a winning hand and the credits the player wagered.

In another embodiment, the base or primary game may be a multi-hand version of video poker. In this embodiment, the player is dealt at least two hands of cards. In one such embodiment, the cards are the same cards. In one embodiment each hand of cards is associated with its own deck of cards. The player chooses the cards to hold in a primary hand. The held cards in the primary hand are also held in the other hands of cards. The remaining non-held cards are removed from each hand displayed and for each hand replacement cards are randomly dealt into that hand. Since the replacement cards are randomly dealt independently for each hand, the replacement cards for each hand will usually be different. The poker hand rankings are then determined hand by hand and awards are provided to the player.

In one embodiment, a base or primary game may be a keno game wherein the gaming device displays a plurality of selectable indicia or numbers on at least one of the display devices. In this embodiment, the player selects at least one or a plurality of the selectable indicia or numbers via an input device or via the touch screen. The gaming device then displays a series of drawn numbers to determine an amount of matches, if any, between the player's selected numbers and the gaming device's drawn numbers. The player is provided an award based on the amount of matches, if any, based on the amount of determined matches.

In one embodiment, in addition to winning credits in a base or primary game, the gaming device may also give players the opportunity to win credits in a bonus or secondary game or bonus or secondary round. The bonus or secondary game enables the player to obtain a prize or payout in addition to the prize or payout, if any, obtained from the base or primary game. In general, a bonus or secondary game produces a significantly higher level of player excitement than the base or primary game because it provides a greater expectation of winning than the base or primary game and is accompanied with more attractive or unusual features than the base or primary game.

In one embodiment, the bonus or secondary game may be any type of suitable game, either similar to or completely different from the base or primary game. In one embodiment, the gaming device includes a program which will automatically begin a bonus round when the player has achieved a triggering event or qualifying condition in the base or primary game. In one embodiment, the triggering event or qualifying condition may be a selected outcome in the primary game or a particular arrangement of one or more indicia on a display device in the primary game, such as the number seven appearing on three adjacent reels along a payline in the primary slot game embodiment seen in FIGS. 14A and 14B. In another embodiment, the triggering event or qualifying condition may be by exceeding a certain amount of game play (number of games, number of credits, amount of time), reaching a specified number of points earned during game play or as a random award.

In one embodiment, once a player has qualified for a bonus game, the player may subsequently enhance his/her bonus game participation through continued play on the base or primary game. Thus, for each bonus qualifying event, such as a bonus symbol, that the player obtains, a given number of bonus game wagering points or credits may be accumulated in a “bonus meter” programmed to accrue the bonus wagering credits or entries toward eventual participation in a bonus game. The occurrence of multiple such bonus qualifying events in the primary game may result in an arithmetic or geometric increase in the number of bonus wagering credits awarded. In one embodiment, extra bonus wagering credits may be redeemed during the bonus game to extend play of the bonus game.

In one embodiment, no separate entry fee or buy in for a bonus game need be employed. That is, a player may not purchase an entry into a bonus game; he must win or earn entry through play of the primary game and, thus, play of the primary game is encouraged. In another embodiment, qualification of the bonus or secondary game could be accomplished through a simple “buy in” by the player if, for example, the player has been unsuccessful at qualifying through other specified activities.

In one embodiment, as illustrated in FIG. 15B, one or more of the gaming devices 310 may be connected to each other through a data network or a remote communication link 358 with some or all of the functions of each gaming device provided at a central location such as a central server or central controller 356. More specifically, the processor of each gaming device may be designed to facilitate transmission of signals between the individual gaming device and the central server or controller.

In one embodiment, the game outcome provided to the player is determined by a central server or controller and provided to the player at the gaming device. In this embodiment, each of a plurality of such gaming devices are in communication with the central server or controller. Upon a player initiating game play at one of the gaming devices, the initiated gaming device communicates a game outcome request to the central server or controller.

In one embodiment, the central server or controller receives the game outcome request and randomly generates a game outcome for the primary game based on probability data. In another embodiment, the central server or controller randomly generates a game outcome for the secondary game based on probability data. In another embodiment, the central server or controller randomly generates a game outcome for both the primary game and the secondary game based on probability data. In this embodiment, the central server or controller is capable of storing and utilizing program code or other data similar to the processor and memory device of the gaming device.

In an alternative embodiment, the central server or controller maintains one or more predetermined pools or sets of predetermined game outcomes. In this embodiment, the central server or controller receives the game outcome request and independently selects a predetermined game outcome from a set or pool of game outcomes. The central server or controller flags or marks the selected game outcome as used. Once a game outcome is flagged as used, it is prevented from further selection from the set or pool and cannot be selected by the central controller or server upon another wager. The provided game outcome can include a primary game outcome, a secondary game outcome, primary and secondary game outcomes, or a series of game outcomes such a free games.

The central server or controller communicates the generated or selected game outcome to the initiated gaming device. The gaming device receives the generated or selected game outcome and provides the game outcome to the player. In an alternative embodiment, how the generated or selected game outcome is to be presented or displayed to the player, such as a reel symbol combination of a slot machine or a hand of cards dealt in a card game, is also determined by the central server or controller and communicated to the initiated gaming device to be presented or displayed to the player. Central production or control can assist a gaming establishment or other entity in maintaining appropriate records, controlling gaming, reducing and preventing cheating or electronic or other errors, reducing or eliminating win-loss volatility and the like.

In another embodiment, one or more of the gaming devices may be in communication with a central server or controller for monitoring purposes only. That is, each individual gaming device randomly generates the game outcomes to be provided to the player and the central server or controller monitors the activities and events occurring on the plurality of gaming devices. In one embodiment, the gaming network includes a real-time or on-line accounting and gaming information system operably coupled to the central server or controller. The accounting and gaming information system of this embodiment includes a player database for storing player profiles, a player tracking module for tracking players and a credit system for providing automated casino transactions.

A plurality of the gaming devices may be capable of being connected together through a data network. In one embodiment, the data network is a local area network (LAN), in which one or more of the gaming devices are substantially proximate to each other and an on-site central server or controller as in, for example, a gaming establishment or a portion of a gaming establishment. In another embodiment, the data network is a wide area network (WAN) in which one or more of the gaming devices are in communication with at least one off-site central server or controller. In this embodiment, the plurality of gaming devices may be located in a different part of the gaming establishment or within a different gaming establishment than the off-site central server or controller. Thus, the WAN may include an off-site central server or controller and an off-site gaming device located within gaming establishments in the same geographic area, such as a city or state. The WAN gaming system may be similar to the LAN gaming system described above, although the number of gaming devices in each system may vary relative to each other.

In another embodiment, the data network is an internet or intranet. In this embodiment, the operation of the gaming device can be viewed at the gaming device with at least one internet browser. In this embodiment, operation of the gaming device and accumulation of credits may be accomplished with only a connection to the central server or controller (the internet/intranet server) through a conventional phone or other data transmission line, digital signal line (DSL), T-1 line, coaxial cable, fiber optic cable, or other suitable connection. In this embodiment, players may access an Internet game page from any location where an internet connection and computer, or other internet facilitator are available. The expansion in the number of computers and number and speed of internet connections in recent years increases opportunities for players to play from an ever-increasing number of remote sites. It should be appreciated that enhanced bandwidth of digital wireless communications may render such technology suitable for some or all communications, particularly if such communications are encrypted. Higher data transmission speeds may be useful for enhancing the sophistication and response of the display and interaction with the player.

In another embodiment, a plurality of gaming devices at one or more gaming sites may be networked to a central server in a progressive configuration, as known in the art, wherein a portion of each wager to initiate a base or primary game may be allocated to bonus or secondary event awards. In one embodiment, a host site computer is coupled to a plurality of the central servers at a variety of mutually remote gaming sites for providing a multi-site linked progressive automated gaming system. In one embodiment, a host site computer may serve gaming devices distributed throughout a number of properties at different geographical locations including, for example, different locations within a city or different cities within a state.

In one embodiment, the host site computer is maintained for the overall operation and control of the system. In this embodiment, a host site computer oversees the entire progressive gaming system and is the master for computing all progressive jackpots. All participating gaming sites report to, and receive information from, the host site computer. Each central server computer is responsible for all data communication between the gaming device hardware and software and the host site computer.

In another embodiment, as illustrated in FIG. 15C, one or more of the gaming devices 310 are in communication with a pay validation system 360 through a network or a plurality of communication lines or channels 362. The pay validation system 360 can include any suitable system for tracking payment transaction information for the use of data cards 14 and 116 with gaming devices 310. In one embodiment, the pay system is similar to the commercially available pay system known as the EZ Pay™ cashless gaming system. In one embodiment, the pay validation system 360 includes a pay validation processor 364 in communication with one or more databases 366. The databases 366 store transaction information. In another embodiment, a plurality of gaming devices 310 are connected to one or more clerk validation terminals (CVT's) 368 through a suitable communication channel 362. Here, the CVT 368 is connected to the pay validation system 360 through a communication channel 362.

In operation of one example, a player may play a gaming device 310 using a data card, and when the player finishes playing the gaming device, the gaming device may provide the data card to the player with fund data corresponding to a balance of four hundred credit units, the equivalent of two hundred dollars. At this point, the gaming device transfers this fund data or information to the pay validation system 360. When the player goes to a CVT 368 to obtain the two hundred dollars, the CVT 368 compares the fund data on the data card to the fund data stored on the pay validation system 360 for that data card. If the fund data matches, the CVT 368 pays the player two hundred dollars. If the fund data does not match, the CVT 368 does not pay the player the two hundred dollars.

To illustrate the circulation of data cards, in one example, a player deposits a certain amount of currency or cash in a gaming device. The gaming device stores a supply of data cards. After receiving the currency, the gaming device processor transfers fund data associated with a balance of credit units to the gaming device memory. The gaming device enables the player to play the game with a possibility of experiencing credit gains and credit losses. As instructed by one or more programs in the gaming device, the gaming device processor tracks the number of credit gains and credit losses. If the player has no remaining credits or reaches a minimal level of credits, the gaming device processor will terminate the game and not dispense a data card to the player.

In another example, the player may insert a data card with fund data corresponding to a certain number of credit units into the gaming device to begin playing. The gaming device reads and writes to the data card to reflect the player's credit gain or loss. If the player ends the game with no credits, the gaming device may erase and retain the data card for future use.

In either example, if the player ends the game with a balance of credits, the processor of the gaming device, using the card read-write device, may update the fund data on the data card and then dispense that data card to the player. The player may then redeem the data card at a CVT or currency station for the amount of currency associated with the fund data remaining on that data card. In this manner data cards can be reset and reused repeatedly by different players.

V. Gaming Device Having Card Processing Assembly With Vertically-Stacked Card Holders

Referring now to FIG. 16, an embodiment a gaming device 400 having a housing 402 is illustrated. The housing 402 supports: (a) a processor 404; (b) a display device 406 which displays a game to the player; (c) a card processing assembly 408 used to process data cards, such as data card 410; and (d) a card information indicator or card mouth display device 412 mounted to the housing 402 adjacent to the card processing assembly 408.

As best illustrated in FIGS. 17A, 17B, 17C and 18, the card processing assembly 408 includes: (a) a card mouth 414 which receives and dispenses data cards; (b) a card hopper, driver or transporter 416 which drives or moves the data cards from the card mouth 414 to the card holders 420 and 422; (c) a read-write device 419 which reads the machine-readable data on the data card 410 and also writes or stores machine-readable data onto the data card 410; and (d) a graphics print-erase device 421 which includes a heat source which directs heat onto the data card 410. This heat source causes graphics to appear on the data card 410, and the heat source also removes graphics from the data card 410.

In one embodiment, the read-write device 419 includes a data read device 419 a and a data write or data storing device 419 b. In one embodiment, the read-write device 419 includes a magnetized device that interfaces with a magnetic memory device on or in the data card 410. The read-write device 419 may include a memory device storing non-volatile memory for storing a transaction history of five hundred to ten thousand transactions or any suitable number of transactions.

It should be appreciated that the graphics print-erase device 421 can include a single mechanism that prints and erases cards or separate mechanisms, one of which prints and one of which erases. In one embodiment, the graphics print-erase device 421 includes a thermal graphics printer 421 a and a separate thermal graphics eraser 421 b.

In the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 18, the card holder 420 holds acceptable quality data cards 424 which are useable, workable or otherwise satisfy a designated condition associated with an acceptable level of card integrity. The acceptable quality cards 424 include new data cards which have not been used, and the acceptable quality cards 424 can also include data cards which have been used but which have an acceptable level of integrity. Accordingly, the acceptable quality cards 424 are dispensable to players during operation of the gaming device 400.

The card holder 422 holds, supports or otherwise stores unacceptable quality data cards 426. The unacceptable quality cards 426 include data cards which do not meet a designated level of integrity. The unacceptable quality cards 426 may satisfy a plurality of card conditions, including, but not limited to, one or more of the following conditions:

a) Data card has been read a designated number of times;

b) Data card has been written to a designated number of times;

c) Data card has been thermally printed a designated number of times;

d) Data card has been thermally erased a designated number of times;

e) Data card has been used a designated number of times;

f) Data card has been tampered with or altered;

g) Data card has a flaw or defect;

h) Data card is unreadable by the gaming device processor; and

i) The intensity of the graphics printed by the print-erase device has been reduced by a designated percentage.

In one embodiment, the card processing assembly 408 includes a support member, frame or mount 427. The mount 427, which is connected to the housing 402, supports the card transporter 416, read-write device 419, print-erase device 421 and the card holders 420 and 422 in relatively close proximity to one another. As illustrated in FIG. 18, the card holders 420 and 422 are positioned or oriented in a vertically-stacked configuration. In the example illustrated, the card holder 422 is positioned above the card holder 420. In other embodiments not illustrated, the card holder 420 is positioned above the card holder 422. In additional embodiments not illustrated, the card holders 420 and 422 are off-set from one another. In this off-set configuration, one of the card holders is located above the other, but the card holders have different positions relative to a common x-axis.

Referring back to FIG. 16, in one embodiment, the housing 402 of the gaming device 400 has a greater degree of vertical space than horizontal space. The vertical configuration of the card processing assembly 408 enables the card processing assembly 408 to be relatively short in length. Accordingly, the card processing assembly 408 fits within the relatively small horizontal space of the housing 402.

Referring back to FIG. 17A, the card mouth display device 412 includes a suitable display screen, such as a liquid crystal diode (LCD) or organic light emitting diode (OLED) screen. The relatively small or miniature display device 412 displays images and graphics relating to the data card 410 used by the player. For example, the card mouth display device 412 can display an image or graphics which provides card usage instructions to the player, such as an “INSERT YOUR CARD BELOW” graphics 462.

In one embodiment illustrated in FIG. 17B, the card mouth display device 412, as controlled by the processor 404, displays a plurality of different graphics, symbols or images 464, 466 and 468, each of which can be printed on the face 502 of the data card 410. By using one or more input device, such as buttons 470, the user can select a desired image 464, 466 or 468. If the user selects cherry image 466, the processor 404 causes the card processing assembly 408 to thermally print the selected cherry image 466 on the face 502 of the data card 410.

In this way, the processor 404 enables a player to print on the card 410, casino-specific or other graphics which are displayed by the card information indicator or card mouth display device 412. This enables players to customize their data cards 410. In one embodiment, the gaming device 400 has a memory device which stores the data represented by such player-selectable graphics, and the memory device stores such data apart from the computer code use by the processor 404 to control the read-write device 419.

In one embodiment illustrated in FIGS. 16 and 17C, the gaming device 400 includes a digital camera 472 controlled by the processor 404. Upon the player's request, through use of an input device, the camera 472 takes a picture of the player, producing a digital photograph 474 of the player. Then the card mouth display device 412 displays the player's photograph 474. If the player is not pleased with the photograph 474, the processor 404 enables the digital camera 474 to take another picture of the player. Upon the player's input, the processor 404 causes the card processing assembly 408 to thermally print the player's photograph 474 on the face 502 of the data card 410. It should be appreciated that the display device 406 can also be used to display part or all of one or more of the graphics 464, 466, 468 and 474.

The card mouth 414, in one embodiment, includes: (a) a plurality of walls 428 which define a slot 429; (b) an indicator 430 which indicates or signifies information, features or events to the player; and (c) an eject device 431 which enables the player to eject the data card 410 from the gaming device 400. The slot 429 has a length and width sufficient to enable the player to insert the card 410 into the card mouth 414.

The indicator 430, sometimes referred to as a lighted bezel, produces a plurality of different visual effects viewable by the player. In one embodiment, the indicator 430 has a plurality of connected panels forming a rectangular shape, and the indicator 430 surrounds the perimeter of the slot 429. The indicator 430 can produce one visual effect when the gaming device is in attract mode, and the indicator 430 can produce a different visual effect when a game is being played. In one embodiment, the gaming device 400 includes one or more light sources, such as light source 432. The light source 432 directs light toward the indicator 430. This light causes the indicator 430 to illuminate with different colors when different events occur. The different colors may result from different colors of light produced by the light source 432. One embodiment of the indicator 430 is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 6,565,434.

In one embodiment, the indicator 430 includes a wall 434 defining an opening that receives a depressible activator or eject button 436. When the player depresses the button 436, the card processing assembly 408 dispenses a data card to the player. In one embodiment, the memory device of the gaming device 400 stores data associated with a plurality of different designated visual effects, and each of the visual effects is associated with a different event. For example, the different visual effects can be associated with an attract mode event, a card insert event, a game start event, a winning outcome event, a game end event, a cash-out event and a card eject event. When the player inserts the card 410, the indicator 430 may, for example, produce a green light, and when the player depresses the depressible activator 436, the indicator 430 may, for example, produce a flashing red light.

As illustrated in FIGS. 19 and 20, the card processing assembly 408 also includes an electronic or electrical connector or pin connector 438. The pin connector 438 is attached to the rear side 440 of the card processing assembly 408. The rear side 440 defines a plurality of holes 441. The holes 441 are sized to receive a plurality of fasteners (not shown) which connect the card processing assembly 408 to the housing 402 of the gaming device 400.

As best illustrated in FIG. 20, the pin connector 438, in one embodiment, includes three pin walls 422 which define holes to receive three electronic or electrical pins (not shown). It should be appreciated, however, that in other embodiments, the pin connector 438 can include any suitable number of pin walls.

As illustrated in FIG. 21, the under side 444 of the card processing assembly 408 defines a plurality of holes 446 a and 446 b. The holes 446 a and 446 b are sized to receive a plurality of fasteners (not shown) used to mount the card processing assembly 408 to the housing 402 of the gaming device 400. The card processing assembly 408 also includes an additional electronic connector or pin connector 448. In this embodiment, the pin connector 448 includes eight or twelve pin walls (not shown) to receive eight or twelve electronic or electrical pins (not shown). It should be appreciated, however, that the pin connector 448 can includes any number of pin walls. The connectors 438 and 448 electronically or electrically couple the card processing assembly 408 to the processor 404 of the gaming device 400.

VI. Data Card with Thermally-Printable Area

Referring to FIGS. 22 through 27, an embodiment of a thermally-printable data card 500 having an upper side or face 502, a back side or underside 504 and a body 507 positioned between the face 502 and underside 504. The thermally-printable data card 500 includes at least one thermally active or thermally printable region, member, zone or area 505 and at least one non-thermally printable region, member, zone or area 506. In operation, the card processing assembly 408 thermally prints thermal graphics 508 on or at the thermally printable area 505. The thermal graphics 508 can include any text, image, art or symbol. The thermal graphics 508 represents or describes changeable player information, player-tracking information, gaming information or gaming-related information. In the embodiment illustrated in FIG. 22, the thermal graphics 508 include player-related text 510 identifying the player's name or identity, payout-related text 512 identifying the purse value or redemption value of the card 500 and bar code graphics 514. The bar code graphics 514 includes a bar code which is associated with the redemption value of the card 500 which, in this example, is eight hundred dollars.

It should be understood that the data card system may be usable by casinos which have not yet fully converted from bar code ticket systems to the data card system. The bar code graphics 514, which are associated with the redemption value of the card, enable such casinos to continue using bar code readers for redemption purposes. This is because, in one embodiment, the card processing assembly 408 updates the thermally-printed bar code graphics 514 upon each use of a data card. Therefore, after the gaming device dispenses a data card to the player, the casino's bar code reader can determine the redemption value of the card by reading the bar code graphics 524.

Referring now to FIG. 24, the non-thermally printable member or area 506 includes gaming-related graphics 516 which, in this example, include gaming-related artwork and card insertion information. In the illustrated example, the graphics 516 include the representation or image of a conventional playing card. The graphics 516, in one embodiment, are permanent graphics which are preprinted on the card in the card manufacturing stage. The graphics 516 can be produced with a permanent printing substance such as ink, paint or dye.

As illustrated in FIGS. 23 and 25, the card 500 also includes a data device 518. The data device 518 stores machine-readable data. The data device 518 also enables the card processing assembly 408 to read machine-readable data from the card and store machine-readable data 520 to the card. In one embodiment, the data device 518 includes a magnetic data device or magnetic interface 522 that stores payout-related information, enables the reading of data on the data card and enables the writing of data to the data card. As in the example illustrated in FIGS. 23 and 25, the data device 518 can be visible on the underside 504 of the card 500. It should be appreciated, however, that in other embodiments, the data device 518 is positioned between the face 502 and underside 504 of the card 500. In such embodiment, the data device 518 is not exposed or visible. The data card 500 may include text 524 printed on the underside 504 of the card 500. This text 524 may relate to legal disclaimer language, card usage information, restrictions of use or other suitable user information.

It should be appreciated that the data card can include multiple thermally-printable members or areas. Referring back to FIG. 24, in one embodiment, the data card 500 includes thermally-printable area 505 a and thermally printable area 505 b. In this example, both of these areas 505 a and 505 b display thermal graphics on the face 502 of the data card 500.

As illustrated in FIGS. 26 and 27, the body 507 of the data card 500, in one embodiment, includes: (a) a protection member or layer 524 (having a thickness of two micrometers plus or minus one micrometer); (b) a printing member or layer 526 (for preprint purposes, such as black); (c) a thermal printing member or layer 528 (having a thickness of five to eight micrometers); (d) an insulation member or layer 530 (having a thickness of two micrometers plus or minus one micrometer); (e) a magnetic member or layer 532 (having a thickness of fifteen micrometers plus or minus two micrometers); (f) a polyethylene terephthlate (PET) member or layer 534 (having a thickness of one hundred eighty-eight to two hundred fifty micrometers); (g) a printing member or layer 536 (which may include multi-color or dye sublimation having a thickness of two micrometers plus or minus one micrometer); and (h) a protection member or layer 538 (having a thickness of two micrometers plus or minus one micrometer).

In one embodiment, the data card 500 includes one of the re-writable cards, such as the TC Card™, which is commercially available through Ricoh Co., Ltd or one of its subsidiaries or affiliates, including, but not limited, to Ricoh Electronics Inc.

In another embodiment, the data card 500 includes one of the embodiments of the rewriteable card disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,448,284; 5,448,280 and/or 5,448,279.

In one embodiment, the data card 500 includes one of the thermally-printable cards, such as the Kudos Card™, which is commercially available through Mitsubishi Plastics, Inc. or one of its subsidiaries or affiliates.

As described above, in one embodiment, the data card includes a ticket, consists of a ticket or otherwise has the configuration of a ticket. Here, the tickets 14, 14 a, 14 b, 14 c, 116, 206, 410 and 500 each have the components and functionality described herein with respect to data cards 14, 14 a, 14 b, 14 c, 116, 206, 410 and 500, respectively.

VI. Data Card Changeover A. Card Changeover Door

Referring to FIGS. 28 and 29, in one embodiment, the gaming device 400 includes an access device, access panel, card changeover device or door 450 connected to the housing 402. The door 450 is connected to the rear side 452 of the housing 402, as illustrated in FIG. 28. In another embodiment, the door 450 is connected to the left side 454 of the housing 402. In each embodiment, the door 450 is positioned adjacent to the card holders 420 and 422 of the data card assembly 408. In operation, the door 450 enables an operator to: (a) replace the card holders 420 and 422 with either a replacement card holder holding new data cards or an empty card holder; or (b) insert additional cards into the card holder 420 and remove the unacceptable quality cards from the card holder 422. In one embodiment, the door 450 includes: (a) one or more coupling members, such as tracks or hinges 456, which couple the door 450 to the housing 402; and (b) one or more mechanisms or members 458 (including, but not limited to, grip members, handles and locks) which facilitate the operator's opening, closing and locking of the door 450. It should be understood that the rear side 452 can include other doors and openings, such as the vents 460. In one embodiment, the card changeover device enables the user to load into the gaming device, approximately three hundred cards, from outside of the gaming device, within approximately sixty seconds.

B. Portable Card Changeover Machine

Referring now to FIGS. 30 and 31, an embodiment of a portable card changeover machine 600 that may be used in conjunction with the gaming device 602 is described. The card changeover machine 600 may include: (a) a housing 604; (b) at least one card holder 606 positioned within the housing; (c) at least one drive mechanism or card transporter 608 used to dispense and retrieve data cards; (d) at least one input device 610 enabling the operator to provide input signals for operating the card changeover machine 600; (e) at least one output device 612 which provides visual and/or audio output to the operator; (f) a processor 614 in control of the card transporter 608, input device 510 and the output device 612; (d) a battery power source 616, which may be rechargeable, that provides electrical power to the card transporter 608, input device 610, the output device 612 and the processor 614; (e) an access device or panel 618 which enables the operator to access the card holder 606; (f) a hand grip member or handle 620 which assists the operator in griping, holding or supporting the card changeover machine 600; and (g) a mouth 622 which enables the card changeover machine 600 to communicate with the gaming device processor 404, distribute cards to the gaming device and receive cards from the gaming device.

In one embodiment, the mouth 622 includes: (a) a plurality of walls 624 which define a card slot 626; (b) upper and lower gaming device engagement members 628 and 630, respectively, which removably engage the card mouth 637 of the gaming device 602; (c) upper and lower electronic or electrical connectors 632 and 634, respectively, which operatively couple the card changeover machine 600 to the processor 404 of the gaming device 602; and (d) a plurality of securing members or fasteners 644 which enable the operator to removably connect the card changeover machine 600 to the gaming device 602.

Referring to FIG. 31, in one embodiment, the card mouth 637 of the gaming device 602 includes: (a) an upper electronic or electrical connector 638 which removably mates with or connects to the connector 632 of the card changeover machine 600; (b) a lower electronic or electrical connector 640 which removably mates with or connects to the connector 644 of the card changeover machine 600; and (c) a plurality of walls 642 which engage with the fasteners 644 of the card changeover machine's mouth 622.

In one embodiment, the card changeover machine 600 includes a plurality of securing members or fasteners 646 connected to the access panel 618 or the housing 604. The fasteners 646 enable the operator to attach the access panel 618 to the housing 604 in order to enclose the card holder 606. In addition, the fasteners 646 enable the operator to detach the access panel 618 from the housing 604 in order to gain access to the card holder 606.

In one embodiment, the card changeover machine 600 includes a support member, such as a pivotal leg 648 having a gaming device engagement pad or member 650. The leg 648 is movable between a first position where the engagement member 650 is positioned adjacent to the housing 604 and a second position where the engagement member 650 is displaced from the housing 604.

In operation, the processor 404 produces an alert signal which indicates a designated card depletion level of the card holder 420 or a designated card level of the card holder 422. In response, the operator opens the access panel 618 and fills the card holder 606 with a supply of acceptable quality data cards. Next, the operator attaches the mouth 622 to the mouth 637 of the gaming device 602. In doing so, the operator brings the card changeover machine 600 into electronic communication with the processor 404 of the gaming device 602. Then, the operator downwardly pivots the leg 648 until the engagement member 650 engages the housing 402 of the gaming device 602. In this position, the leg 648 distributes part of the weight of the card changeover machine 600 to the gaming device 602.

After making designated inputs using the input device 610, the card changeover machine automatically distributes a plurality of acceptable quality cards to the card holder 420 of the gaming device 602. When this distribution is complete, the gaming device 602 automatically dispenses all of the unacceptable quality cards from the card holder 422 to the card changeover machine 600. In one embodiment, the card changeover machine enables the operator to automatically load into the gaming device, approximately three hundred cards, from outside of the gaming device, within approximately sixty seconds.

The portable card changeover machine may assist operators in automatically retrieving unacceptable quality cards from gaming devices, and the card changeover machine may also assist operators in automatically filling gaming devices with new cards or acceptable quality cards. Because the card changeover machine is portable and relatively convenient to use, the card changeover machine increases the efficiency of operating and maintaining gaming devices which use data cards.

The gaming device can receive, read, update, reset, erase and house a plurality of data cards which are adapted to circulate through a plurality of gaming devices and which can be used repeatedly by multiple players on multiple occasions. The data cards usable by the gaming device can be reset or returned to a blank state or a face value state on multiple occasions. Instead of the data cards being limited to use by a single player, much like currency, any player can use them. This type of gaming device provides gaming device players and gaming enterprise operators with a greater level of convenience and ease in playing gaming devices and managing gaming facilities, respectively.

VII. Graffiti Detection

As noted in the preceding paragraph, the data cards, like currency, are reusable and may be used in a plurality of different transactions. A single data card may be used in a plurality of different transactions by the same player. Further, a single data card may circulate throughout a gaming system where the single data card may be used in a plurality of different transactions but during those transactions the data card may pass from the possession of a first player to the possession of a second player.

With reusable data cards that circulate through a gaming system in which a single reusable data card may at different times be utilized by a plurality of different players as described at least with respect to the Operation section above, it is possible that a first user may make an unauthorized alteration or defacement to a reusable data card and then place it into the gaming system for recirculation (see section Used Card Holder above or description of FIG. 18 in regards to card reuse). For example, a person may scrawl/scratch graffiti on the data card or write an expletive on the data card. The card with graffiti may be deposited in a gaming device and placed in a card holder for later reuse. Subsequently, as part of another transaction, the card may then pass to another player. The player receiving the card may find the graffiti or the expletive offensive which is undesirable to an operator employing reusable data cards.

The unauthorized alteration or defacement of the reusable data card may be such that the data card is still operable to perform an intended function, such as storing a record of credits resulting from game play. Nevertheless, to a casino operator, the unauthorized alteration or the defacement of the reusable data card may be unacceptable. Thus, in the following paragraphs, various embodiments of apparatus and methods for detecting unauthorized alterations or defacements to reusable data cards are described.

FIGS. 32A and B are a top side, 700 a, and bottom side, 700 b, of an embodiment of a reusable data card that has been altered in an unauthorized manner. The reusable data card in the figure is one format of a reusable data card and its description is for the purpose of illustration only. The top side 700 a of the reusable data card includes a border region 702 with graphics indicating a direction and an orientation for inserting the data card. Inside the border region 702 is an area 701 that is graphically rewriteable, such as but not limited to thermal printing and erasing methods as previously described in preceding sections.

Symbols and text may be written to the graphically rewriteable area 701. In this example, a graphic for a casino, a casino name, a casino address, a type of ticket (i.e., cashout ticket), a validation number, ticket number, date and time of generation, player name, player tracking points and dollar amount have been printed to the data card. This information has been added to the card via an authorized process and apparatus in a gaming system, such as via the methods, apparatus and systems previously described in the preceding sections.

Over the authorized data on the top side of the data card 700 a, a number of examples of visually apparent alterations or defacements to the data card are shown for the purposes of illustration. For example, the card includes scratches 703 and 705. The scratches 705 don't appear to be a word or a symbol. This type of pattern may have been generated inadvertently while the card was in the player's possession. But, the scratches 705 may have also been made intentionally. The scratches 703 are intentional and spell the phrase “you stink.” Unfortunately, this unauthorized graphical component may be offensive to another player if the card is reused.

As another example, a sticker of a smiley face 706 is added to the card. A media bonded to the surface of the data card with an adhesive which is printed with unauthorized graphical components may be another way of adding unauthorized graphics to a data card. A sticker is one type of adherent media that may be added to data cards. In one instance, a sticker may be a way for an entity to advertise for some service or product not sanctioned by an operator.

In yet another example, the phrase “eat my shorts,” 707, has been written on the card. The phrase 707 may have been added using a marker, pen, or another type of marking implement with a marking substance that is compatible with the material or materials comprising the outer surface of the data card. The marking substance may simply be a substance that leaves a visible mark on the data card after it has been applied. In a further example, a data card may be marked in some manner by applying a heat source. For instance, the data card may be burned or melted with a match or a cigarette to leave a mark. A mark 704 a made by a heat source, such as cigarette burn, is illustrated in the figure.

FIG. 32B is a back side view of a data card. The backside 700 b of the data card includes a magnetic stripe for recording data 710, custom graphics 709 a and 709 b. An expletive 711 has been added to the backside 700 b. The expletive 711 extends across two different areas of the backside of the data card. The first area comprises the magnetic portion 710 and the second area is an upper portion of the backside of the data card above the magnetic stripe which may comprise a different material than the magnetic striped area 710.

The custom graphics may be printed to the surface of the data card or may be printed on a sub-layer of the data that is subsequently coated with one or more additional layers. In general, a data card may comprise multiple layers where different materials are utilized for different layers. Custom graphics may be generated on these layers utilizing printing techniques with various substances, embossing, etching, etc. Further, the multiple layers and materials may be used to produce various graphical effects and textures for the custom graphics 709 a and 709 b. Raised letters or symbols are one example of a texture effect that may be used. Holographic images or graphics that vary according to a viewing angle are examples of graphical effects.

The custom graphics 709 a or 709 b may be related a casino operator, such as a casino logo, or convey any other type of information that is of interest to a casino. For example, the custom graphics may be used to promote a show or some other event offered or associated with a casino or other operator that employs the data cards.

In another example, all or a portion of the graphics may be customized to a particular user. For instance, the custom graphics may include a picture of user. In yet another example, the custom graphics may include a pattern or patterns that are preferred by a particular user. For instance, a user may be able to obtain “custom” cards that are selected from a plurality of card designs. Examples of custom graphics that are player selected were described above with at least respect to FIGS. 16 and 17 c.

As another example, a design program may be provided with various card templates and graphics selections that allow a user to design their own customized data card with custom graphics, such as 709 a. This design program might be made available to a user via such devices as a home computer, an in-room TV interface, gaming terminal, cell-phone, PDA or a kiosk. In some instances, after a user has completed the design of a custom data card depending on the type of device utilized, the device capabilities and where it is located, the custom data card may be designed, generated and directly delivered to a user at the device, such as a kiosk. In other instance, the design, generation and delivery of the data card may take place at two or more different locations (i.e., a) design/generation at first location, delivery at second location, b) design first location, generation/delivery second location, or c) design first location, generation second location and delivery third location).

The custom graphics, such as but not limited to 701, 705, 709 a, 709 b, may be include elements that are time sensitive. For example, data cards may include graphics that are themed for a particular time of year, such as holiday themes. In another example, the graphics may promote an event. After the event, it may be desirable to start removing the data card displaying the event from circulation. In yet another example, the data card may include graphics that promote and activity or product that is no longer available. Thus, when such a card is utilized after the activity or product is no longer available, it may be desirable to remove it from circulation in a gaming system providing use of circulating data cards. In addition, in some embodiments, independent of whether a data card is still functional for the purposes of performing transactions. It may be desirable to remove the data cards from circulation after a certain time period as a way of preventing fraud, such as counter-fitting.

Returning FIGS. 32A and 32B, to identify unauthorized alterations or tampering of a data card, it may be useful to employ image analysis techniques, such as but not limited to pattern matching and pattern recognition, which are described in more detail as follows. To aid in the image analysis, the data card may include markings, patterns, etc, that allow the relative positions and an image scale on the card to be determined. For example, alignment marks, 711 a, 711 b, 711 c and 711 d, may be used to correct or account for any alignment errors or scaling errors (e.g., distortions resulting from stretching image) that may occur when a digital image is generated of the top side 700 a and bottom side 700 b of the data card.

To make a determination if any unauthorized markings have been added to a particular data card, it may be useful to determine what type of graphics (symbols, letters, markings, etc) have been authorized for the particular card. Thus, each data card may include identification information that allows the authorized graphical components of a data card to be identified. For example, the data card may include one or more bar-codes 711 c and 711 d that allow authorized graphical components included positions of the authorized graphical components to be determined. Graphical identifier information may be recorded using a bar-code, via the magnetic stripe, via an electronic storage medium, such as an RFID chip or memory chip embedded in the data card, via graphics, symbols, letters, numbers, etc., printed on the card or combinations thereof.

The graphical identifier information, such as graphical identifier information encoded via the bar-code, may be used as a pointer to locate authorized graphical information associated with a particular card. The authorized graphical information may allow an image analysis comprising pattern matching on a data card received at a gaming apparatus to be performed. For instance, the graphical identifier information may be used to locate a graphical template that describes or illustrates the positioning for all of the authorized graphics for the data card. A graphical template may be useful for a group of data cards that are each printed with common graphics.

The graphical identifier information may be used to locate graphical information that is specific to a particular data card and/or is common to a group or class of data cards. For example, this information may be stored on the data card via bar-code 708 a, mag-stripe 710 or printed in the read-write area 701. In one embodiment, an image and/or other information related to performing an image analysis of a particular data card may be generated prior to it being added to the gaming system for circulation. For instance, a scanned image of each data card may be generated prior to its insertion in the gaming system, such as prior to being placed in loader device 600 described with respect to FIG. 30 or after the insertion via the loader device but prior to release from a gaming apparatus. The scanned image may be stored in a raw form, a processed form or combinations thereof, such that the stored image related data is useful for image analysis involving detecting unauthorized graphical information added to the particular data card. A unique data card identifier may be used to locate the image data for a particular card.

In a further embodiment, after a particular data card is accepted at a gaming apparatus, such as but not limited to a gaming table, gaming terminal, change machine, player tracking unit or kiosk, and prior to the data card being reissued, data useful for image analysis involving detecting unauthorized graphical information added to the particular data card, such as an image scan of the data card, may be acquired at the gaming apparatus and stored for later retrieval which may occur when the card is next accepted at a gaming apparatus.

FIG. 34A is flow chart of a method of processing reusable data cards for one embodiment 900 of the present invention. The flow, such as the order of decisions and steps, in FIG. 34A and the other flow charts described herein may vary and is not limited to the flow illustrated in the figures. In 902, a particular data card is received at a gaming apparatus. In 903, card identification information that allows the type of card and its associated authorized graphical components to be identified may be acquired and optionally stored. In 904, one or more images may be acquired of both the front and back sides of the data card. In one embodiment, the acquired images may be used for auditing purposes of any transactions involving the data card.

An image of the data card may be captured using a scanner. The data card may be scanned as it is accepted and moved into the gaming apparatus. In one embodiment, the top and bottom of a data card may be scanned simultaneously.

In one embodiment, a color image may be generated of the data card. In other embodiments, a gray-scale image may be generated of the data card. One or more scans in color and/or using different wavelengths of light (e.g., infrared) to illuminate the data card may be useful in some instances to identify the graphical components of a particular data card. For example, the inks or other materials used to generate the graphical components of a particular data card may be selected to be more visible in a scanned image when exposed to a particular wavelength of light, such as infrared or when passed through a particular color filter after illumination with a light source of certain characteristics.

In some embodiments, a single pass method may be utilized where during a single pass under a scan head a lens splits the image into three smaller versions that are passed through different filters (e.g., red, green or blue) and onto a discrete section of the CCD array. In yet another embodiment, a digital image of the entire card may be captured using a digital camera including a CMOS or CCD array. In a further embodiment, an image of one or both sides of the data card may be captured using a contact image sensor. In another embodiment, a flexible card may be passed over a drum scanner with a photomultiplier tube.

In one embodiment, the acquired images may also be used to determine between which transactions an unauthorized graphical component may have been added to the data card. For instance, images may be captured and stored of a data card demonstrating that the data card didn't contain unauthorized graphical components prior to its issuance to a player. If the data card includes unauthorized graphical components the next time it is accepted at a gaming apparatus, then it may be assumed that the data card was altered between the time it was issued to the player and when it was next accepted at a gaming apparatus and analyzed.

In 903, card identification information stored or printed on the data card, such as graphical identifiers described with respect to FIGS. 32A and 32B, may be acquired. In 905, a check is made as to whether the card type has been identified. In some instances, identifier information may be read from the card that is unknown. For example, the identifier information may be unknown when the card is generated at a first casino and then entered into a gaming apparatus at a second casino.

In other instances, the identifier information may be corrupted, obscured or the data card may be damaged in some manner that prevents the card type from being identified in 905. For example, someone could write over a bar-code with a black marker so that the bar-code can no longer be read. In another example, when card identifier is stored on a magnetic strip of a data card including a magnetic stripe, the magnetic strip may be damaged preventing identifier information from being read. In yet another example, the data card may be a forgery or fake and thus may not include identifier information that allows it to be properly identified.

In 905, in one embodiment, when the card type is not identified, it may be embargoed in the gaming apparatus in 922 and if necessary a new data card may be issued. The embargoed may be later examined or inspected or it may be simply discarded when the gaming apparatus is emptied of embargoed data cards. In another embodiment, when the card type is not recognized, the gaming apparatus may eject the data card. Nevertheless, for auditing and possibly fraud detection purposes, the scanned image of the card may be saved. It is possible to attempt to identify the data card prior to generating an image of it. Thus, in some embodiments, for a data card that is ejected or embargoed, an image of the data card may not be generated or if it is generated it may not be stored.

In 906, a determination may be made in regards to whether the card is reusable. In some embodiments, a gaming apparatus may accept reusable data cards as well as single use storage records, such as printed tickets. In other embodiments, a data card may not be reusable because it may not be desirable for one reason or another to release the data card back into circulation within the gaming system. Further, details in regards to identifying data card types and reuse criterion will be described further with respect to FIG. 34B.

In 907, a determination may be made in regards to whether the card is erasable. In this embodiment, erasable may denote a process that may affect a graphical component of the card, such as thermally erasing text or images on the data card as previously described in previous sections. When the card is erasable, in 908, the erasure method may be applied to the card. Next, in 910, an image may be generated for one or both sides of the card in a manner previously described with respect to 904 and in 912 the generated images may be stored.

In one embodiment, for a data card with an erasable element, it may be desirable to generate an image of the erasable elements before and after erasure for the purposes of determining how completely the erasable elements have been erased. In other embodiments, images of the data card may be generated only once either before it is erased or after it erased.

In 914 and 916, images captured of the data cards may be processed and analyzed for at least the purposes of determining whether any unauthorized graphical components are visible on the data card. Unauthorized graphical components may include any mark or visually identifiable component of the data card that is added to the data card intentionally or unintentionally. For example, a data card may be inadvertently scratched or marked while it is being processed by a gaming apparatus or while it is being carried by a player. The inadvertently added scratches or marks may be considered unauthorized graphical components. As another example, as previously described with respect to FIGS. 32A and 32B, intentionally added marks or scratches may be considered unauthorized graphical components.

Some techniques that may be used in image processing and analysis include but are not limited to one or more of the following methods as described as follows. A histogram that counts and graphs the total number of pixels at each grayscale level may be generated. A histogram may be used to detect underexposure or saturation in an image. Further, line profiles that plot the variations of intensity along a line may be generated. Line profiles are sometime helpful in determining the boundaries between objects in an image.

Intensity measurements to measure grayscale statistics in an image or a region of an image, such as but not limited to minimum intensity value, maximum intensity value, mean intensity value, standard deviation of the intensity value may be utilized. Look-up tables to convert grayscale values in the source image into other grayscale values in a transformed image may be used. Spatial filters to remove noise, smooth, sharpen or otherwise transform an image may be utilized, Examples of spatial filter include but are not limited to Gaussian filters for smoothing images, Laplacian filters for highlighting image detail, Median and nth order filters for noise removal and Prewitt, Roberts or Sobel filters for edge detection.

In other embodiments, grayscale morphology may be used to filter or smooth the pixel intensities of an image, alter the shape of regions by expanding bright areas at the expense of dark areas, remove or enhance isolated features, smooth gradually varying patterns and increase the contrast in boundary areas may be performed. Frequency domain processing may be used to remove unwanted frequency information, such as noise. Further, Blob (binary large object) analysis in regards to touching pixels with same logic state may be performed. Blob analysis may be used to find statistical information such as the size of blobs or the number, location and presence of blob regions to locate particular objects in an image.

Thresholding to select ranges of pixel values in grayscale and color images that separate objects under consideration from the background may be used. Binary morphological operations to extract and/or alter the structures of particles (e.g., blobs) in a binary image including primary binary morphology, advanced binary morphology can be used. Edge detection algorithms including using gauging of dimensional characteristics of objects may be performed.

Image correlation to determine how close an image is to an expected image, e.g., comparing an image of a data card prior to its release and after it is next accepted at a gaming apparatus, may be utilized. Pattern matching to locate regions of a grayscale image and determine how close the grayscale image matches a predetermined template may be performed. Pattern matching may be configured to find template matches regardless of poor lighting, blur, noise, shifting of the template or rotation of the template that may occur when images of the data card are processed.

In some embodiments, all authorized graphical components of a data card may be known and their respective locations may be known on the data card. Using information regarding the authorized graphical components, a template for the front and back side may be generated and utilized image processing and analysis of 912, 914, such as various pattern matching algorithms. The graphical template that is utilized in the image processing and analysis may change over time because the graphical components of a data card may change over time. For example, one or more portions of the data card may be allow a graphical component to be added once (write once) or to be added and erased multiple times.

In one embodiment, graphical template may comprise an image generated of the visible portions of the data card, i.e., front and back side of the data card prior to its release into circulation. This type of graphical template may or may not be updated each time the data card is released into circulation. A data card may be considered released into circulation when it is moved from a controlled environment, such as within a gaming apparatus, a restricted casino area (e.g., a casino cage), a printing area (e.g., a company where blank data cards are generated), to a non-controlled environment, such as on the person of a player or a casino employee.

Authorized in the context of a data card or graphical components may refer to generating a data card and/or generating graphical components on a data card in a manner approved by the entity using such data cards, such as a casino. The data card itself may be considered unauthorized if it is generated or altered in a manner that is not authorized by the entity. Further, an authorized data card may be changed by adding or altering a feature of the card, such as a magnetic stripe, graphical components, RFID tag or other electronic component, in a manner not sanctioned by the entity using the data cards, such as a casino, to generate an unauthorized data card. In some instances, fake or counter-fit data cards may be produced to generate unauthorized data cards.

Authorized graphical components on a data card may or may not include scratches or other visible defects that are deemed acceptable. For example, in some embodiments, a visible defect, such as a scratch in a line pattern, may be detected and deemed acceptable, such that the data card is allowed to enter circulation. Initially, when the scratch is first detected, the scratch may be considered an unauthorized graphical component since the gaming system is not configured by design to add such defects. Nevertheless, if it is deemed an acceptable defect and the data card including such a defect is allowed to enter circulation, then in some embodiments, information noting the defect, such as image data, may be stored and associated with the data card and the defect may become an authorized graphical component. In other embodiments, information regarding the defect may not be stored and each time the data card is analyzed for unauthorized graphical components the visible defect may be processed as if it was the first time the defect appeared on the card.

Other image analysis and processing techniques may include optical character recognition algorithms and methods or algorithms and methods associated with machine vision systems. As noted images of a data card may be generated in multiple colors, color matching may be used to quantify which color, how much of each color and/or ratio of colors exist in a region of an image and compare the values generated during color matching to expected values to determine whether the data card includes unauthorized graphical components. Color pattern matching may be utilized to locate known reference patterns in a color image, such as those comprising a graphical template for the data card.

FIGS. 33A and 33B are digital images of a top side and bottom side of an embodiment of a reusable data card after image processing. Depending on the types of algorithms and methods employed, many different types of digital images may be generated and are not limited to the one illustrated in FIGS. 33A and 33B, which are provided for illustrative purposes only. Further, multiple types of analyses may be generated each time a data card is processed and analyzed in 912 and 914. One type of processing and analysis may be better suited for detecting one type of unauthorized graphical components as compared to other types of graphical components. For instance, one type of graphical analysis and processing may be better suited for scratch detection while another may be suited for detecting marks made by a pen or a marker. Thus, after processing, an image showing all of the different types of graphical components, may not be generated, as is shown in FIGS. 33A and 33B.

In FIGS. 33A and 33B a number of unauthorized graphical components described with respect to FIGS. 32A and 32B have been identified by the image processing and analysis in FIG. 34A. Known and authorized graphical components, such as the location of the magnetic stripe, may be eliminated during image processing and analysis. In FIGS. 33A and 33B, authorized graphical components have been eliminated and are not shown.

The unauthorized graphical components in 800 a and 800 b comprise the message “you stink,” 803, the burn damage, 804 a and 804 b, the scratches, 805, the smiley face sticker, 806, expletive, 811, stray marks, 815, and marks left over from incomplete erasure, 812 and 814. The stray marks 815 may result from sources, such as “noise” introduced during the image analysis process or from physical sources, such as dirt or dust. Image analysis techniques, such as infrared cleaning, may be used to detect dust appearing on an image and distinguish it from stray marks resulting from incomplete erasure.

The gaming apparatus and system may or may not be designed to configure to detect for complete erasure of authorized graphical components. For example, a digital image of the graphical image may be generated prior to erasure of text and only this image may be used to determine whether all the authorized text is present. In other embodiments, one or more digital images may be analyzed only after erasure of the data card to detect whether the data card has been satisfactorily erased. In this type of analysis, the level of darkness any detectable marks and their density may be used as criteria to determine whether the erasure is completed satisfactorily. In yet another embodiment, digital images may be generated and analyzed both prior and after erasure to detect if any unauthorized text or other marks have been added and afterwards to determine if the marks have been properly erased.

For a data card with writable and erasable portions, such as thermally writable and erasable, graphics may be added to the card using the printing method for which the data card is configured, such as thermal printing in an unauthorized manner, such as part of a counter fitting scam. The counter-fit card may include legitimate graphical identifier information, such as a card type, described with respect to FIGS. 32 a and 32 b (e.g., see description of 708 a and 708 b) and may be recognized as a known card type even though it is counter-fit card (The base data card may be unauthorized and counter-fit in the sense that blank data card may have been stolen or counter-fitted and written with unauthorized data. Further, an authorized data card issued into circulation by an authorized gaming apparatus may be erased and written with new unauthorized data to produce an unauthorized and counter-fit data card from an authorized data card.) Thus, it may be desirable in some instances to analyze a data card for unauthorized graphical components before it is erased else evidence of the unauthorized graphical components, such as unauthorized text may be lost after erasure, which may be beneficial in some fraud attempts, such as generating fraudulent cards.

In FIGS. 33A and 33B, in various embodiments, an analysis of image data may or may not include attempts to “recognize” the pattern, such as the expletive, 811, the scratched message, “You stink,” 803 or the written marks, “Eat my Shorts,” 802. For example, during image analysis and processing, a determination may be made that unauthorized graphical components comprising marks of a particular density (amount of marks per area of the data card) have been detected. Images of the data card may be separated in overlapping regions and non-overlapping regions of different sizes to calculate marks per area. Further, the image analysis and processing techniques may link certain groups of marks together.

The groupings or characterizations of marks may not require that a meaning or context associated with the marks to be generated. Thus, a data card may be rejected when a context or meaning of a group of marks is not known. For example, the written message, “Eat my shorts, 807, may be simply be identified as a related or unrelated group of marks in a particular region of the image of the data card without the additional determination being made that the group of marks spells, “Eat my shorts,” or that the “Smiley face Pattern” is a smiley face pattern. Nevertheless, the data card including 807 may be rejected for the purposes of reuse.

In other embodiments, pattern recognition methods may be utilized. For example, it may be possible to distinguish that 805 are two scratches with no contextual meaning while the scratches 803 appear to be letters or contain letters. At a higher level, it may be possible to recognize 811 spells a word and recognize the pattern as an expletive while in other instances recognize another pattern as a word that is not an expletive. When detected, a context or meaning of a detected pattern may be used to determine whether the data card is to be embargoed by the gaming apparatus and/or system or returned into circulation.

Returning to FIG. 34B, after processing and analyzing the images, a criteria or criterion may be applied which is used to determine whether to reuse the card or embargo the card in 917. The criteria or criterion may depend on a number of factors, such as but not limited to 1) whether unauthorized graphical components were detected, 2) areas of the of data card where the unauthorized graphical components were detected, 3) size, shape, color of the unauthorized graphical components, 4) a density of unauthorized graphical components (i.e., amount per area), 5) content, context or meaning of the graphical components and 6) combinations thereof. In 920, if the data card is accepted, it may be placed in a stack of data cards or other location in a gaming apparatus that allows the data card to be reused. In 922, if the data card is not accepted it may be embargoed.

An embargoed data may be saved for later analysis, imaged and then destroyed or may be simply destroyed. For example, in one embodiment, embargoed data cards may be shredded. Card stacking/holding mechanisms for used, new and unacceptable data cards are described in the previous sections (see at least the sections “General Card Management Assembly,” “Card Management System for Cards with Graphical Display: Used Card Holder,” Card Management System for Cards with Graphical Display: New Card Holder,” and “Gaming Device Having Card Processing Assembly with Vertically-Stacked Card Holders.”)

In particular embodiments, even though a tangible value may be read from the data card, a data card may be deemed unacceptable in 917. As an example, at a gaming terminal or change machine, a player may insert a first data card that stores an amount of credit or some other tangible value. The first data card may be sufficiently readable such that the amount of credit, a currency amount or some other tangible value associated with the first data card can be credited to the gaming terminal or the change machine. Then, an analysis of the first data card as described in 900 may occur while other activities occur on the gaming terminal or the change machine, such as game play in the case of a gaming terminal or returning cash to a user in the case of a change machine. The result of the analysis of the first data card may be that the first data card is deemed acceptable for reuse or not acceptable reuse. Thus, in some instances, the first data card may be designated as unacceptable for reuse even though the first data card was in a condition that allowed enough information stored on the first data card to be read such that the tangible value amount associated with the first data card could be determined.

In other embodiments, each time a data card is issued from a gaming apparatus, the state of the card just prior to issuance may be acquired. For example, just prior to issuance a used card may be printed with new graphics, such as a dollar amount stored on the data card. Prior to issuance of the newly printed data card, images of the data card in an authorized state (i.e., a state that includes only authorized graphical components) may be generated and then the data card may be entered into circulation. The generated images may be stored and later used as part of a graphical template that is used in the images processing and analysis steps of 914 and 916. Thus, in some embodiments, image data of a data card may be acquired just after acceptance of the data card and just prior to issuance of the data card.

Different architectures may be used to store and locate images and other information used in the method of 900. For example, images generated of a data card used for detecting unauthorized graphical components as well as for auditing may be stored locally, stored remotely or combinations thereof. On a gaming terminal including a game controller for controlling a game played on the gaming terminal, a card management system with an imaging system for imaging data cards, the card management system data may include a memory for storing and/or processing image data from the imaging system. In another embodiment, a memory used by a game controller on the gaming terminal may also be used to store and/or process image data. In yet another embodiment, another device associated with the gaming terminal, such as a player tracking unit, may accept, store and/or process the images generated by the imaging system. In yet another embodiment, the imaging system may be operable to directly or through one or more intermediary devices and a network to send generated images to a remote device that is physically separate from the gaming device for storage and or processing of the image data.

In particular embodiments, the analysis and processing of image data in the determination of whether a data card includes unauthorized graphical components may use a processor, a CPU or another logic device associated with the card management system and/or the associated imaging system. In another embodiment, a game controller or other processing device separate from the card management system and/or imaging system may be used in the determination of whether a data card includes unauthorized graphical components. For example, the game controller of a gaming terminal or a processing board on a change machine may be designed or configured to perform the determination.

In yet another embodiment, image data may be acquired by the card management system including the imaging system and sent to a remote device, such a remote server. The analysis and processing of the image data may be performed at the remote server and then a message may be returned to the gaming device where the data card currently resides in regards to whether the data card includes unauthorized graphical components and/or is acceptable for reuse. In response to the message indicating the acceptability of the card from the remote server (or a logic device separate from the card management system), the card management system may embargo the data card, place it in a stack for reuse or reissue it to a current user. In other embodiments, the analysis and processing of image data may be distributed among a plurality of devices, such as but not limited to a distribution between a local processor associated with the card management system and a game controller, a distribution between the local processor card management system and a processor on a remote server or in general, a distribution between a plurality of processor located on the same or different devices.

When images of data cards are stored locally, such as on the card management system, and/or a gaming terminal, kiosk or change machine including such a card management system, a record of what images are stored on each device may be stored on a central server or some other intermediary device. Thus, when a data card is accepted at a different gaming device than from which it was issued, the gaming device at which it is accepted may determine that image data or other information used to determine whether unauthorized graphical components are present are not available locally. In response, the device, such as the card management system that has accepted the data card, may contact another device to obtain the needed information.

In another embodiment, a device may store information regarding where information, such as image data, needed for image analysis and processing is stored. As such, the device may receive requests for information related to image analysis and processing and may contact another device that stores all or a portion of the information needed for the image analysis and processing, retrieve it and then send it to the requesting device. In yet another embodiment, the device may store information regarding where image related information is stored but may not retrieve the data itself and instead may direct the gaming device that is requesting image related information to another device that does store the information.

As an example, in one embodiment, a first device that last issued the data card may store image data of the data card that was acquired prior to issuance of the data card from the first device. When the data card is accepted at a second device, the second device may contact a third device which may retrieve image data from the first device and route the image data to the second device. Alternatively, the third device may send information to the second device that allows the second device to establish a communication session with the first device and the second device to receive image related information related from the first device. In one embodiment, the data card may store information in regards to where image data associated with the data card is located, such as on the first device. Thus, when the data card is accepted at the second device, the second device may read information from the data card and directly contact the first device or another device indicated by the information read from the data card to retrieve needed information for a determination of whether unauthorized graphics are present on the data card.

In yet another embodiment, the data card may include a memory that allows image data to be directly stored to the data card. The image data stored on the data card may be a state of the front and back of the data card acquired prior to its last issuance. When the data card is next accepted at a second gaming device after its last issuance from a first gaming device, image data may be retrieved from the data card. The retrieved image data may be used to determine whether unauthorized graphical components have been added to the data card since the last time.

In one embodiment, a check for unauthorized graphical components may only be performed when the data card is going to be placed in a stack of data cards deemed acceptable for reuse. Thus, the data card may be checked for unauthorized graphical components prior to an issuance to a user but not each time the user uses the data card because it may be assumed that the user wouldn't mark up the card in a manner that was unacceptable to them. Further, if a user marked up their own card and complained, the gaming entity issuing the data card, such as the casino, would be able to say the marks occurred while the data card was in the user's possession, which would likely mitigate the complaint. Thus, in general, in particular embodiments, the rules/criteria used to determine whether to embargo a data card may be different when the data card is likely to be transferred to another user versus the data card is to be returned to the same use.

In another embodiment, each time a card management system with image analysis capabilities receives a data card, method 900 may be initiated. If it is determined that the image processing and analysis is required and the card management receives a request to return the data card to the user that provided the data card prior to the image analysis and processing being completed, then the image analysis process may be terminated and the card may be simply returned to the user. In some embodiments, all or a portion of method 900 may be completed prior to return of the data card to the user that inserted the data card. For example, image data from a data card, such as scanning in 904, may be acquired and then the data card may be returned to the player prior to the completion of 914 and 916. In another example, image analysis and processing in 914 and 916 may be completed for one side of the data card but not the other side of the data card when the data card is returned to the user.

As an example of when a data card may be returned to a player prior to the completion of method 900, a player may insert a data card storing credit information into a gaming terminal where the data card may be processed by a card management system on the gaming terminal such that credits are deposited on the gaming terminal. Then, the player may immediately cash out or may play a game and then cash out. In FIG. 34A, the method 900 may or may not have reached completion. For instance, the acceptance/rejection criterion in 918 related to whether unauthorized graphical components are present may not have been applied yet, but, the data card may be returned to the player.

In some instances, when image data has been acquired method 900 may be completed even though the data card was returned to the player prior to the completion of the method. The results and information obtained from the completion of the method may be used next time the data card is accepted by the card management system. For example, after the data card is returned to a player, it may be determined that the data card includes an unacceptable level of unauthorized graphical components and a flag or some other indication may be made to embargo the data card next time it is recognized by the card management system.

In another embodiment, although in some embodiments it may be preferable to return the same card to a user, when the method 900 is initiated, the same card that is received by the card management system doesn't necessarily have to be returned to a user. As previously discussed, a card may be embargoed and may not be returned to a user for a number of reasons including the presence of unauthorized graphical components. However, when a data card is needed for issuance and method 900 is not completed on the last data card accepted by the card management system, then the card management may obtain a new data card from a stack of new, used, or new and used data cards available to the card management system and issue the new data card while method 900 is completed on the last data card. After completion of method 900, the last data card may be placed into the used or new and used stack for later use or may be embargoed.

FIG. 34B is flow chart of a method 950 of processing reusable data card for other embodiments of the present invention. In 952, a card type may be determined. As described with respect to 903 in FIG. 34A, the card management system may be operable to obtain card type information. In 952, it may be determined that the card is a themed card. Examples of particular themes include but are not limited to holiday themes, themes based on a time of year, themes based on a promotion, themes based on events (e.g., a show, a sporting event, etc.), a theme related to a gaming device, a theme associated with a characteristic of a gaming entity, such as a casino (e.g., a restaurant, bar, pool or some other feature of the gaming entity. The theme may be represented on the data card as one or more graphical components includes, symbols, text, art work, pictures, etc.

In 954, it may be determined whether the theme is expired or not. For example, a New Years theme may be valid from mid-December to Mid-January. When a theme has expired, in 956, the data card may be embargoed and a new data card may be issued if needed. When the theme has not expired, in 954, for one embodiment, then the method 950 may advance to 906 as described with respect to FIG. 34A.

In yet another embodiment, the graphics associated with the theme may be a particular picture of a casino. In some instances, the casino may wish to update the picture and remove the data cards with a particular picture from circulation. In other embodiments, a gaming entity, such as a casino, may wish to vary the types and amounts of data cards with various theme designs in circulation over time as a measure to prevent fraud and counter-fitting. Thus, groups of data cards with a particular design may be retired and removed from circulation at different times.

In another embodiment, the player may be given the option of keeping the card before it is embargoed in 956 as some players may prefer a New Years theme long after New Years. In another embodiment, when the data card is still of an acceptable quality but the card is expired, the card management system may be operable to check an amount of new and/or used cards that are available and only embargo the data card when there is a sufficient amount of new and used cards available. This conditional embargo of data cards based upon an amount of data cards available in an apparatus may be applied to any type of data card that satisfies an embargo criterion while the condition of the data card is of acceptable quality for reuse.

In 952, it may be determined that the card type is a custom or personal card. A custom or personal card may comprise authorized graphical components selected by a player (e.g., see at least the description above in regards to FIGS. 16 and 17C and description of 32A and 32B). A custom or personal card may also comprise information, such as biometric information (finger print, handwriting, picture, etc.), stored on the card that is associated with a particular player. Further, a player's name, picture, signature and other identifying information may be printed on a custom or personal card.

In 958, when it is determined that a new custom or personal card is not needed, then the method may continue to 906 in FIG. 34A for one embodiment of the present invention. In 958, when it is determined that a custom or personalized card is expired or a new card is needed (e.g., the data card may be damaged or thermal print capabilities may no longer be adequate), in 960, a determination may be made as to whether the card management system is operable to generate a new custom or personal data card with the same features as a current personal or custom data card that needs to be replaced.

For instance, a personal or custom data card may include permanent graphics embedded in the data card. The custom data cards with the permanent may not be currently stored in the card management system. In another example, the card management system may not have printing capabilities that are needed to print graphical components of the current custom or personal data card. In yet another example, the current personal or custom data card may comprise a memory for storing biometric information and a data card with the required memory or a mechanism of transferring the biometric information from the old card to the new card may not be available. Therefore, in each of these examples, the card management system if needed is not able to replace the custom data card.

In 960, when the capabilities to generate a new personal or custom card are available, in 962, the old custom or personal card may be embargoed or returned to the player (the old custom card may be returned by default or at the request of the player), and a new personal or custom card may be issued to the player. In 960, when the capabilities to generate a new personal or custom card are not available, the user may be issued a temporary data card in 964 and in 966 a new custom card may be ordered for the player. In 966, the player may be notified that a new custom data card has been ordered and may be provided with instructions or information as to where the player can pick-up the new data card, when the new data card will be available, where the new data card will be delivered or combinations thereof. Again, the old custom data card may be embargoed or may be returned to the player with the temporary data card.

In 952, the card management system may determine that the card type is from another casino. In 958, when the data card is from an affiliated casino, the data card may be treated like a data card that was issued locally and the method may advance to 906 in FIG. 34A. An affiliated casino may be a group of casinos owned by a common entity. In 958, when the data card is not from an affiliated casino, but the casino have a credit sharing agreement, in one embodiment, the old card may be embargoed and a new data card associated with the casino where the card management system is located may be issued. In 962, the embargoed card may be returned to the casino where it was issued (also, a digital image of data card may be sent to the casino where it was issued). In another embodiment, in 962, a digital image of the data card may be sent to casino where it was issued and the embargoed card may be destroyed.

Further, a credit value stored on the data card from the casino with the credit sharing arrangement may be credited to a gaming device. This process may require communications with devices associated with each casino. The first casino that has accepted a credit value from a data card issued at a second casino may contact the second casino to request a reimbursement. In 966, when a credit sharing arrangement doesn't exist with the casino that issued the data card or the type of data card can't be identified, the data card may be returned to the player.

While the present invention has been described in connection with what is presently considered to be the most practical and preferred embodiments, it is to be understood that the invention is not limited to the disclosed embodiments, but on the contrary is intended to cover various modifications and equivalent arrangements included within the spirit and scope of the claims. It is thus to be understood that modifications and variations in the present invention may be made without departing from the novel aspects of this invention as defined in the claims, and that this application is to be limited only by the scope of the claims.

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Classifications
U.S. Classification463/25, 235/381
International ClassificationA63F9/24
Cooperative ClassificationG07D7/0006
European ClassificationG07D7/00B
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